SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — State lawmakers across the country have been forced out of office, stripped of leadership posts or chastised after sexual misconduct allegations since last year, and Utah wasn’t immune.
Republican Rep. Jon Stanard of St. George resigned in February, days before allegations surfaced that he met up with a prostitute in taxpayer-funded hotel rooms.
Though he didn’t face a criminal investigation, Stanard was asked to repay about $225 he used for the rooms. He and his lawyer have not commented.
The headline-grabbing case shone a light on sexual misconduct allegations in Utah, a generally conservative state where most lawmakers belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Over the last decade, two state lawmakers were accused of sexual harassment, according to documents provided to The Associated Press after a public records request. In both cases, state officials redacted the names and other details about the two lawmakers.
The AP filed similar records requests in every state seeking information on sexual misconduct or harassment complaints against lawmakers, as well as any financial settlements. Though the process unearthed about about 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in settlements nationwide, the actual figures are almost certainly higher.
That’s because a majority of states released no records, with some saying they had no complaints, did not keep a tally or they aren’t legally bound to disclose the information.
Underreporting is an issue in sexual harassment cases as well as sexual assault cases, said Democratic Rep. Angela Romero of Salt Lake City. “Really, it’s about people feeling comfortable enough to step up and share their stories, but when you do that you risk your own credibility,” she said. “How do we ensure that if somebody speaks out, they’re protected too?”
In Utah, records showed an employee reported in 2016 that a lawmaker approached her desk and kissed her hand after she thought she had injured herself. When she complained, he told her “I will remember that at your next evaluation,” according to an account of the conversation detailed in the records. He also said she was an “an attractive woman” and “a pretty face” in the office, the records state.
The state released little information on a second allegation from April 2017, where a compliance officer spoke with a lawmaker about discrimination laws after witnessing behavior that could potentially be inappropriate.
The Legislature’s general counsel, John Fellows, has declined to describe the behavior, saying it could identify those involved and make other people fearful about reporting complaints.
Utah’s Legislature had no records of any settlements in harassment or misconduct cases going back to 2008, the period for which AP requested records.
Both lawmakers were required to take extra sexual harassment training, in addition to the training they’re required to undergo each year.
This session, the Legislature considered requiring both lobbyists and journalists working at the Utah Capitol to undergo similar training but ultimately decided to impose the requirement only for journalists.
Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press
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