Assembly leaders refuse to release harassment complaints

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Assembly leaders said Tuesday they support their clerk's decision not to release complaints about sexual harassment or misconduct by legislators or their staffers.

Assembly Chief Clerk Pat Fuller and Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk last week denied the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper's request for sexual harassment complaints filed with their offices over the last decade. The clerks both wrote that releasing them would have a chilling effect on reporting incidents.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz told reporters during a news conference Tuesday that complaints have been filed in the past in their house. Both Vos and Hintz said the records shouldn't be released, even in redacted form, in order to protect people's privacy.

Vos said he's focused on making sure victims get justice, adding that there hasn't been a sexual harassment settlement in the Assembly since he became speaker.

Asked why the public should believe the chamber's leadership is doing anything to hold employees accountable without releasing the records, Vos pointed out that Assembly Republicans removed former Rep. Bill Kramer from his GOP majority leadership post in 2014. The GOP made the move after Kramer was publicly accused of sexually harassing a lobbyist and a legislative staffer as well as groping a woman's breasts in a parking lot after a Republican event.

Republicans also pressured Kramer to resign but didn't impose any sanctions. He was ultimately sentenced to five months in jail in connection with the parking lot assault.

Vos and Hintz told reporters they called a mandatory meeting Tuesday morning for legislative staff to review the process for reporting inappropriate behavior. They said staffers go through a harassment training session when they begin their jobs but don't receive any refresher training as the years go by. He said the meeting wasn't prompted by any specific complaints.

Assembly lawmakers don't receive any sexual harassment training, although Hintz spokesman Aaron Collins said the chamber's human resource officials are working on developing mandatory training for both staff and legislators.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokesman, Dan Romportl, didn't immediately reply to an email asking if any complaints exist in the Senate and whether Fitzgerald believes they should remain confidential.

Gov. Scott Walker's top aide, Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel, sent all cabinet agency heads an email last week encouraging them to talk about sexual harassment policies with their human resource teams.

The actions came amid a flurry of national reports of sexual misconduct by men in the media, government, sports and entertainment. No reports of sexual harassment by Wisconsin politicians have surfaced in the context of the national allegations.
 

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