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Houston lawmaker asks for inquiry after more sexual misconduct claims

Austin American-Statesman - 12/7/2017

Dec. 07--State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, called Thursday for independent investigations into sexual assault and harassment allegations against lawmakers, after The Daily Beast published claims Wednesday night of misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles, D-Houston, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Allegations include Miles touching the hip of a political consultant and commenting on her breasts, and propositioning a legislative intern. Uresti is accused of forcibly kissing a journalist, and once asking the same consultant about her underwear and inappropriately hugging her on more than one occasion. The women making the claims were not identified in the story.

Miles and Uresti did not have immediate comments on the article.

"I find the charges reported to be very alarming and I commend the brave individuals who have come forward about their experiences in the Texas Capitol and across the country," Garcia said in a statement Thursday. "There is no excuse for sexual harassment, discrimination, abuse or bullying."

Garcia also called for a "hotline to report abuse in Texas government to ensure there is an independent and transparent path to justice for people who have been harassed or assaulted and due process for all parties involved."

In a letter to Senate Administration Committee Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Garcia asked her colleague to call a public hearing to review the chamber's sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures.

"As a legislative body, we must be diligent, deliberative, and effective in our effort to combat the systemic failings, which contribute to the type of environment that breeds such abhorrent, reprehensible conduct within this building," she said in the letter. "We must ensure that we protect the most vulnerable among us, and in doing so create a structure to independently investigate allegations and honor those who are brave enough to come forward."

The House Administration Committee unanimously approved an updated sexual harassment policy late last week that gives examples of such harassment, offers guidance for internal and external complaint processes and lays out counseling information. The policy also requires sexual harassment training for all House members, employees and interns, though it's not enforceable for legislators.

The move followed media reports of sexual misconduct at the Capitol in The Daily Beast and The Texas Tribune last month detailing claims of sexual harassment and assault by male lawmakers and others at the Capitol. The reports mostly relied on anonymous sources.

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