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Texas Lawmakers React To Sexual Assault Allegations At The State Capitol

The top of the Texas Capitol.
Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
/
KUT News

An investigation has been launched by The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) after a Capitol staffer came out with allegations, claiming that a lobbyist used a date rape drug on her. Some Texas lawmakers are responding to the incident by issuing statements in support of the victim and saying they're banning from their offices the law firm associated with the accusations.

Over the weekend, the DPS investigation was first confirmed by The Austin-American-Statesman on Saturday. DPS said it was investigating allegations of sexual assault by an employee from Austin-based lobbying firm HillCo Partners.

Texas lawmakers, including House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), confirmed knowledge of the incident late last week. On Monday, Phelan kicked off the House floor session with a speech condemning sexual assault at the Capitol.

“We can, and we must be better, when it comes to changing the culture in this building,” Phelan told House legislators.

Phelan referenced House Rule 15, which states the House will create “a safe and professional environment in which each individual is treated with respect is essential for conducting the legislative business of Texas.”

He also encouraged lawmakers and Capitol staffers to file complaints of sexual assault to the General Investigating committee, which deals with workplace conduct in the Capitol.

“For too long, the culture of the House has made victims of harassment feel as if they can’t or shouldn’t come forward, because it might ruin their reputation, or ruin their career,” Phelan said, “Victims shouldn’t have to decide between their career and coming forward, that has to change.”

The victim reported the incident to law enforcement and Phelan was supportive of that decision.

“In this particular case, the victim has bravely come forward and chosen to pursue justice by contacting law enforcement. We are going to allow the process to work exactly as it was intended,” Phelan said.

He also directed the General Investigating committee to establish an email hotline for submitting reports of harassment for Capitol staff members.

House lawmakers and staff members are also expected to complete a virtual sexual harassment training, which Phelan announced would be changed to an in-person training to improve its effectiveness.

Some representatives have issued statements on the incident, and have also decided to wear pink at the Capitol tomorrow in support and solidarity with the victim.

Other lawmakers are banning HillCo Partners from their offices, including Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), who plans to permanently ban the firm if the DPS investigation finds them guilty.

However, Vice Chair of the General Investigating committee Victoria Neave is not making any comments about the incident at this time in order to “keep from compromising any investigative efforts.”

The General Investigating Committee has yet to schedule any hearings on the incident.

Got a tip? Email Haya Panjwani at hpanjwani@kera.org. Follow Haya on Twitter @hayapanjw.

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