There isn’t a lot of Hollywood glitz in the California state Legislature.
In recent months, however, it’s been easy to spot the shadow of reputed sexual predator Harvey Weinstein in the halls of the state Capitol.
A state assemblyman quit amid accusations of misbehavior dating back many years, some of them dating to his tenure as a staff member prior to seeking office. A state senator resigned amid allegations of preying on student interns. Another senator has been ordered to keep his hugs to himself.
Even a legislative champion for victims of sexual harassment was forced to take an unpaid leave after multiple reports that she, too, had engaged in abusive behavior.
This is just a small sampling from a cavalcade of complaints targeting elected officials from both parties as well as legislative staffers that became public after more than 150 women signed a letter describing a pervasive culture of sexual harassment in state politics.
The details have come slowly, and incompletely, because the Legislature exempts itself from many of the disclosure requirements covering local government and the rest of state government.
That needs to change along with the boys’ club atmosphere in Sacramento.
If citizens and journalists and rival candidates had access to information about complaints and hefty settlements billed to taxpayers, that change would have occurred a long time ago.
One reason we chose to write about this issue today is that this is Sunshine Week, a national initiative sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to highlight the importance of open government in a free society.
The Legislature denied a request for information about sexual harassment complaints after the “We said enough” letter was released last fall.
Under pressure from California news organizations, the Legislature eventually provided summaries of 18 cases of sexual harassment over the past decade involving five current or former lawmakers and 12 senior staff members. Some of the allegations echo President Donald Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, and taxpayers forked over almost $600,000 in legal fees and settlements.
After repeatedly burying legislation to provide whistle-blower protection to legislative employees (another exemption from state law), lawmakers passed the bill early this year and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law.
As a next step, we call on lawmakers to subject themselves to the California Public Records Act, the law governing cities, counties, special districts, school districts and other state agencies. The Legislature is covered by the Legislative Public Records Act, which denies the public access to many of the records that other agencies must share.
Among them are records of complaints and investigations.
A bill to extend the California Public Records Act to the Legislature passed the Assembly in 2011, but it never got a vote in the Senate. A bill to require disclosure of harassment, discrimination and misconduct complaints against legislators has been introduced this year.
It would be a small but significant improvement, and we will be watching how local legislators — state Sens. Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire and Assembly members Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Marc Levine and Jim Wood — vote on Assembly Bill 2032.