Lawmakers plan to return to the Capitol over the summer to revise statehouse policy on sexual harassment

The Colorado Capitol. (Photo by John Herrick)

Lawmakers will hold off on making any potential changes the state’s sexual harassment policy until the 2019 legislative session, leadership decided on Wednesday.

House and Senate leadership voted to set up an interim committee to review the Capitol’s harassment policy over the summer. Any proposed changes will be put into a resolution and voted on by lawmakers during the 2019 legislative session.  

Lawmakers have said repeatedly that the state’s sexual harassment policy should be changed in the wake of accusations brought against at least five lawmakers so far this session. The only lawmaker to face any consequences, former Rep. Steve Lebsock, was expelled from the House of Representatives on March 2 over allegations of sexual harassment by five women and for retaliating against them after these complaints were filed.

An independent review released last week found changes are needed to hold lawmakers accountable for this kind of behavior. Those changes includes having an independent panel made up of non-lawmakers handle complaints (instead of lawmakers) and creating a standing committee that would decide if any punishment or remedial action is needed (instead of party leadership).

 Holding up the 235-page report, House Majority Leader KC Becker told The Colorado Independent she wants to have more input from lawmakers before scheduling a vote on a resolution. There are 28 days left in the legislative session.

“I want to make sure we have buy-in,” Becker said. “…there was so much to digest here, and I want to think through it.”

Lawmakers have had to grapple with the issue of sexual harassment here at the state Capitol all session as the national #Metoo movement prompted people to come forward with stories of their own. After Lebsock’s expulsion, Democrats made an unsuccessful attempt to expel Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs over allegations that he harassed a former aide.

Throughout the process, both parties have raised concerns about how these allegations should be dealt with; Republicans say due process for the accused is needed while Senate Democrats have lambasted leadership for not holding their members accountable — three Republicans in the Senate have been accused of sexual harassment, Sen. Jack Tate, Larry Crowder and Baumgardner, and none have faced any consequences so far.  

Rep. Faith Winter, the Democrat at the center of the successful expulsion of Lebsock, has said complaints should be reported to a third-party person, not leadership, because the current process only politicizes complaints.

Becker, who managed the Lebsock case mostly on her own — House Speaker Crisanta Duran recused herself after calling for Lebsock to resign early in the process — said she wants a standing committee to manage the allegations.

These are among the 25 recommendations detailed in the report. Other recommendations include using the preponderance of evidence as a standard of proving whether allegations are credible, and if they are found credible, making those findings public.

The interim committee of six members will meet five times over the summer. Those members are expected to be selected by Friday.

The Colorado Capitol. Photo by John Herrick