Female lobbyists praise crack down on sexual misconduct at Nevada Legislature
Three veteran women lobbyists say thanks to the efforts of Speaker Jason Frierson and former Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford two years ago, there’s finally a system and attitude to report sexual misconduct in the Legislature.
That system was developed in the wake of sexual harassment charges against then-Sen. Mark Manendo at the end of the 2017 Legislature.
Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, said when allegations of misconduct against Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle surfaced earlier this month, “that system proved itself to be worthy and needed.”
But she said the new attitude of zero tolerance was long overdue.
“It’s kind of horrifying it took us so long to get here,” she said.
Magnus said she was victimized a dozen years ago when she was an intern at the Legislature and “I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, didn’t feel like I’d be believed. That was literally the culture in the building and you didn’t talk about these things.”
She, Alexis Miller, and Susan Fisher all reported being the victim of sexual misconduct during their careers.
Miller said when she was harassed, “it was just sort of the unspoken rule. Don’t rock the boat, keep your head down. I was scared to death I was going to lose my job but I worked for somebody who had my back.”
She said things are much better now: “The awareness that has arisen in the last several years is incredible and it’s about damned time.”
Fisher started as an intern in 1989 and has lobbied the Nevada Legislature professionally since 1995.
“Last session was a big eye opener for everybody,” she said. “It made women a lot morel likely to speak up because of the changes made by Speaker Frierson and former Majority Leader Ford.”
She said when she started lobbying, women who suffered harassment felt they would lose their jobs, be banned and their employers would tell them to just do their work and get over it. Even two years ago, she said she would give young employees and interns the lecture about harassment.
“I didn’t feel the need this session to give our intern a lecture,” she said.
She also said employers no longer have that “get over it” attitude.
All three women said they’re most concerned about the interns and young counsel bureau employees who may not feel as secure reporting inappropriate advances or conduct.
“You come across as more vulnerable,” Fisher said.
“Truly the most vulnerable people in this building are the interns,” said Magnus. “Those young people have to be taken care of. We have to have an avenue for those folks to come forward.”
Fisher also pointed out there have been cases where men were the victims in the Legislature and those individuals have the right to use the reporting system too.
One concern raised was some people would use the system vindictively to get even with a lawmaker or lobbyist by filing a false report but Magnus said the way it’s set up, that shouldn’t be a problem. The investigations are conducted by a completely independent law firm charged with finding the truth behind any accusations and everything is handled confidentially.
Magnus said with Sprinkle, the system passed a major test and should now encourage more women to come forward and report inappropriate conduct by lawmakers, lobbyists and anyone else.
“I do believe we’re in a different era now where people feel more empowered. I hope more people will use this process, trust this process,” said Magnus.