Nov. 24, 2004 Sen. Lorraine Berry said Wednesday morning that the Senate Ethical Conduct Committee, which she chairs, has acted on a case which addresses sexual harassment claims made against Sen. Usie Richards.
"We have acted and we are awaiting legal counsel's preparation of findings," Berry said. "When that is completed the recommendation will be sent to Senate President David Jones."
She also said that the Legislature legal counsel said the Legislature Rules are inconsistent with federal law, so they do not apply. Berry said, "Those rules address conduct unbecoming to a senator." She said there is nothing that addresses sexual harassment. "Therefore," she said, "we have to develop new procedures for incoming Legislatures."
The Senate Rules state several infractions including "conduct which brings disgrace upon the good name of the Legislature." However, they do not specifically address sexual harassment. The Rules of the Legislature state that if a committee recommends censure or reprimand, it would require eight votes on the Senate floor to be approved. If the committee recommends expulsion, it would require 10 votes. Berry said those rules do not apply to the current case. The committee makes its recommendation, and that is forwarded to Jones.
Berry said the committee is developing an interim policy until the new rules go into effect. She also said she didn't want the matter to become politicized. (See "Senate Majority is Finally Official, For Now").
She said, "It's the committee making the decision; not the Legislature." She said the committee can recommend a reprimand, but expulsion is not an option. "The decision does not have to go before the full Legislature," she said.
She said sexual harassment is addressed in the Senate manual, but "it doesn't include any penalties or procedure."
Whatever the outcome of the committee's decision, it would apply to the 25th Legislature only, not the 26th, so it could not affect Richards's standing in the 26th Legislature.
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