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Arizona lawmaker wants new policies for addressing inappropriate behavior

(Facebook/Kelly Townsend for Arizona State Representative)
LISTEN: Kelly Townsend - Arizona State Representative

PHOENIX — An Arizona lawmaker who claimed she has been subject to unwanted sexual advances at the state Legislature said she wants to see new procedures put in place to address those reports.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos that she wants to see House leadership implement a statute to track allegations of harassment or inappropriate behavior that occurs between lawmakers.

Townsend said she wants there to be an in-house system that tracks those types of claims so they cannot be ignored or removed.

She said she hopes this type of system could reason with lawmakers who have been accused of sexual harassment multiple times and get them to change their behavior.

“Before the offense is committed, the person thinks, ‘This could go in the news [so] I’ll behave myself,'” Townsend said.

Townsend was one of four Arizona lawmakers who have come forward alleging harassment or inappropriate behavior at the state Legislature, as of Wednesday.

In a Facebook post, Townsend said she has received “unwanted sexual advances by more than one person” and has been subject to “intimidating behavior and retaliation” by someone in a position of power in years past. 

The lawmakers came forward shortly after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) said she has been sexually harassed for years by state Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) and several other of her male coworkers.

Townsend said she has not been subject to advances by Shooter, but said she has witnessed Ugenti-Rita experiencing “inappropriate responses” and admitted there is an issue at the state Legislature.

She said one of the problems with reporting claims of harassment or inappropriate behavior at the hands of Arizona lawmakers is that the process is very public and can be problematic if the suspect is someone in power.

“If you bring that to leadership and say this person won’t leave me alone and they won’t stop, what if that person is the chair of the Ethics Committee? What do you do?” she said.

“If your claim is not successful, you could face retaliation, public scrutiny,” she said. “It makes it very difficult to deal with these problems.”

In response to the number of allegations that have surfaced, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard announced he would conduct an investigation to examine the harassment allegations.

“All allegations of sexual harassment will be taken seriously in the House,” Mesnard said in a statement.

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