After complaints, Colorado lawmakers review harassment

Posted at 10:17 AM, Nov 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-21 20:58:20-05

DENVER (AP) — Colorado's highest-ranking legislators responded Tuesday to harassment complaints against lawmakers by announcing a formal review of their procedures for identifying, reporting and resolving sexual misconduct incidents at the Capitol.

The announcement by leaders of the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-led House comes after formal complaints were filed against two Democratic state representatives in recent weeks. Lawmakers have struggled to address the allegations as they also try to prepare for the 2018 legislative session that convenes in January.

Lawmakers and General Assembly staff will look at practices in other states and in the private sector. Issues include filing complaints, confidentiality, identifying patterns of harassment and annual training on behavior in the workplace. Lawmakers may hire an independent consultant to review existing procedures.

A starting date for the policy review has yet to be scheduled. Other expected participants include the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman's office and victims' advocacy groups.

Under current policy, formal complaints are handled confidentially. The workplace policy covers lawmakers, government staff, lobbyists, news media and others working at the Capitol. Leaders cannot divulge if a formal complaint has been filed or how it is handled.

Several legislative staff and lobbyists have told Rocky Mountain Community Radio, The Denver Post and other outlets that they didn't report incidents for fear of harming their careers and reputations.

On Nov. 10, Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran removed Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock from his post as chair of the Local Government Committee and called on him to resign from the Legislature after Rep. Faith Winter and two other women alleged he sexually harassed them.

Winter, an Adams County Democrat, filed a formal complaint this month about an alleged 2016 incident involving Lebsock, saying he suggested they engage in sexual acts and that he grabbed her elbow at an end-of-session party.

Winter said she went public after hearing of other alleged incidents involving Lebsock.

Lebsock, who also represents Adams County and is running for state treasurer in 2018, has denied wrongdoing.

Winter said she told legislative leadership, including Duran, who was then majority leader, about what happened soon after the party. Winter decided not to pursue a complaint then, fearing her reputation would be hurt and it would make it harder for her to do her work.

Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain criticized Duran for making Lebsock the chairman of a legislative committee following Winter's allegations. Duran said that she believed the situation with Lebsock had been resolved when she appointed him to the chairmanship.

On Nov. 15, Thomas Cavaness, an organizer for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis' 2018 gubernatorial campaign, said he had filed a formal complaint against Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver. Cavaness claimed Rosenthal improperly touched him at a 2012 fundraiser. Rosenthal, who was a candidate for the state House at the time of the alleged incident, has denied the claim.

Rosenthal's attorney, Harvey Steinberg, said that since Rosenthal wasn't a member of the House at the time of the alleged incident, the Legislature had no formal jurisdiction to handle the complaint.

Duran, citing her role as chief investigator in the case, said she could not comment. But she did suspend Rosenthal from his post as vice chair of the House Local Government Committee.

Cavaness' attorney, Alan Kennedy-Shaffer, said Tuesday that he had requested information about any other complaints involving Rosenthal to support his client's case but that Duran had denied the request, citing the workplace policy's confidentiality provisions.

Those provisions, Kennedy-Shaffer said, highlight "how woefully inadequate the legislature's sexual harassment policy is, allowing multiple complaints to pile up against legislators without the victims or the public knowing."