State legislature spent $269K on sexual harassment complaints - WNEM TV 5

State legislature spent $269K on sexual harassment complaints

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LANSING, MI (WNEM) -

As the #MeToo movement continues to inspire sexual assault and harassment survivors to come forward and share their stories, new details have been released about a state governing body's attempts to cover them up.

After a request by the Associated Press, the Michigan Senate released numbers showing it had spent $269,000 to investigate and or settle sexual harassment complaints against senators more than 10 years ago.

That is raising questions over whether the State Senate has kept a slush fund of sorts to handle these kinds of situations.

"I think that it is kind of an unfortunate question all together that we would have to consider," said Laura Wagoner.

The senators are unnamed, but TV5 was told they are no longer in office due to term limits.

There is no disputing the fact their misconduct was paid for by taxpayers.

"Think of what you could do with $269,000 for the homeless people in our community or people who are struggling," Wagoner said.

State lawmakers told TV5 where the money came from and why it was used in this instance.

"Both the Senate and House leaderships have a number of accounts that are populated by private and corporate interests," State Rep. Tim Kelly said.

"I think that if an employer is named in a suit you know they get involved in paying out. You know, whether it's an individual that was elected or a staffer that gets involved in something," State Senator Ken Horn said.

Kelly and Horn said sexual harassment has no place in the state capitol. They both said they had no knowledge of this until the report came out on Jan. 18. They insist if it were happening today they would do everything in their power to stop it.

"I think it's wrong," Kelly said.

He said tax dollars should be used to pay for a lot of things, but settling sexual harassment claims against state lawmakers is not one of them.

"It just shouldn't be done," Kelly said.

Kelly wasn't in office when this happened and he wholeheartedly disagrees with it.

"We've got bills to address it. Both Gary Glenn as well as Rep. Klint Kesto, I think have bills to address these. I think it's wrong and I think that the names should be published," Kelly said.

Horn said he is trying to put a stop to sexual harassment altogether. He said he is involved in sensitivity training.

"I just went through yesterday an hour and a half of sexual harassment training, which was something I volunteered to be part of," Horn said.

Horn said he had no knowledge of the State Senate using taxpayer dollars to settle the scandalous claims. He said it's important to put a halt to all types of harassment through knowledge and awareness.

"There are classes whether it's gender, whether it's race, whether it's religion. I just learned in Michigan for the very first time that height and weight are protected classes. And so you know, we all have to be very diligent," Horn said.

Horn believes no one should have to come to work in his office with a knot in their stomach. He vows to do everything he can to make sure his work environment is a welcoming one.

"If we see something then we need to talk to each other and report it and get down to the bottom of it. Pull people aside and say I heard what you said and that's just dead wrong. And you know, if the leaders start taking that position that all filters down into the system," Horn said.

As for Kelly, he said if anyone in the legislature decides to engage in sexual harassment the people of Michigan should not have to foot the bill.

"These are matters that if somebody's been found responsible it should come out of their own pockets, not the state taxpayers'," Kelly said.

As for Wagoner, she hopes the days of sexual harassment in the state legislature is a distant memory.

"It's unfortunate that you even have to consider that our tax dollars will pay to protect potentially dangerous predators," Wagoner said.

There is now legislation that was introduced that would ban taxpayer dollars from being used for situations like this.

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