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NV Legislature’s administrative arm expands harassment rule

December 20, 2017

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The administrative arm of Nevada’s Legislature expanded its rules for mandatory training of staff regarding anti-harassment policies Tuesday while continuing to work on new rules for lobbyists and lawmakers expected to be adopted early next year.

The Legislative Commission voted unanimously to make the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau responsible for developing a training program to ensure its working environment is free from sexual and other forms of harassment.

“Times are changing and we need to change with it,” said Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, a Democrat from Las Vegas, who chairs the commission made up of six members each from the Senate and Assembly who direct legislative policy in the years between Nevada’s biennial legislative sessions.

The legislature expanded its existing anti-harassment policy for members of the Senate and the Assembly earlier this year to include legislative staff and lobbyists for the first time.

Rules to implement those changes are still in the works, including a new mechanism that would allow for complaints to be filed anonymously, said Rick Combs, director of the Legislative Council Bureau.

Under the rules adopted Tuesday, new employees of the bureau must be trained within 30 days of their hiring and all employees must undergo training at least once every two years. Among other things, the bureau is responsible for auditing the accounts of state agencies and conducts other administrative chores through its fiscal, legal and research divisions.

“We have in the past provided that training, (but) we have not had a policy that requires it be conducted at specific intervals,” Combs told the commission members meeting in Las Vegas with a video hook-up in Carson City.

“What we are trying to do — based on what’s obviously going on in the world right now and in state legislatures and federally in Congress and everywhere else — is to make sure we are conducting the training so people recognize what their rights and responsibilities are in the workplace of the legislature’” he said.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have toppled powerful men in Hollywood, media and politics in recent weeks.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee also opened a formal investigation last week into whether Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat, “may have engaged in sexual harassment” with a campaign aide and a lobbyist. Kihuen has denied the allegations but announced he doesn’t intend to seek re-election next year.

In July, former Nevada state Sen. Mark Manendo, a Las Vegas Democrat who served in the Legislature for 23 years, resigned after a law firm concluded he violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy and behaved inappropriately toward female staffers and lobbyists.

Combs said training for Counsel Bureau staff “will include not only what harassment is and how to avoid it but also talk about the complaint process and what employees should do if they ever encounter a situation they believe is inappropriate.”

It also will require the bureau to establish a reporting system that applies to lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staff “that allows a person to provide a complaint without identifying himself or herself,” he said.

Frierson said lawmakers have been working since last spring to try to “address sexual harassment in a global way.”

“It wasn’t because of national news or any of the recent events. It’s because back in April, it was the right thing to do,” he said.

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