Utah lawmakers reject anti-harassment training for lobbyists
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A panel of Utah lawmakers rejected a proposal Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to undergo annual anti-harassment training in order to be licensed to lobby at the state Capitol.
The proposal, which could still be considered and passed during the upcoming Legislative session, came as waves of sexual harassment allegations have surfaced in governments and businesses around the country.
Utah already requires lawmakers and staff to undergo training about harassment that’s based on sex, religion, race or other factors, but not lobbyists who frequent the Capitol and meet privately with lawmakers and staff.
A legislative committee declined to endorse the proposal Wednesday as lawmakers cited concerns about regulating “guests” at the Capitol.
Legislative lawyers and the Utah lieutenant governor’s office, which regulates lobbyists, said the proposal wasn’t prompted by bad behavior but is something they began looking at in May, long before allegations of harassment and assault were made public against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, sparking similar allegations to surface against powerful men in media, politics, entertainment and other industries.
Requiring anti-harassment training for lobbyists helps ensure that the state is doing what it can to create a safe workplace at the Capitol, said Thomas Vaughn, the Legislature’s Associate General Counsel.
“It’s just meant to be careful and to have a process in place in the hopefully never-happening event that one of these situations occurs,” Vaughn said.
The proposal would have allowed the lieutenant governor’s office to issue a fine of up to $2,000 and suspend a license to lobby for up to five years if a lobbyist is found to have harassed someone.
Republican state Rep. Brian Greene, of Pleasant Grove, said he didn’t like the burden it would put on lobbyists and lobbyist regulators.
“I think it’s pretty clear what’s appropriate and what isn’t,” Greene said. “I hate to get into the false sense of security that we can somehow educate people on what appropriate behavior is and inappropriate behavior is.”
Democratic state Rep. Patrice Arent, of Millcreek, said lobbyists aren’t regular “guests” at the Capitol and are already treated differently than the general public, being required to get a license and wear a name tag in the statehouse.
Arent sid she was discriminated against when she used to lobby at the Capitol but didn’t immediately offer further details.
“It happens,” she said of harassment. “You need to open your eyes and to know that ‘common sense’ doesn’t solve these problems.”
She later told The Associated Press in an email that she faced discrimination at the Capitol dating back to the 1970s when she was an intern and in the decades following when she worked as a legislative attorney, when she lobbied on behalf of attorney general’s office and served a lawmaker.
Aundrea Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Utah House Republicans, said in a statement Wednesday night that Rep. Brad Wilson, the No. 2 Republican in the House, plans a lobbyist anti-harassment bill next year.
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