As sexual-misconduct accusations continue to rock Hollywood and Washington, a Utah legislative committee on Wednesday rejected a bill to require lobbyists to undergo annual anti-harassment training.
Opponents argued the measure — proposed by legislative attorney Thomas Vaughn as a move to protect lawmakers and staff as well as shield the state from liability — would amount to regulating state Capitol “guests.” Lawmakers and their staff members already receive this training.
One legislator, Rep. Brian Greene, said the idea of expanding that to lobbyists is “unnecessary and probably too paternalistic.”
“Anyone who has risen to the level of adulthood in this society knows what’s appropriate and what isn’t,” said Greene, a Pleasant Grove Republican. “Let’s not justify any excuse of claiming ignorance by implying we somehow need to further educate adults.”
Greene’s own grasp of what’s appropriate was called into question two years ago when he seemed to question whether sex with an unconscious person always constitutes rape.
“If an individual has sex with their wife while she is unconscious ... a prosecutor could then charge that spouse with rape, theoretically,” he said in debating a bill clarifying the law on consent. He later added, “That makes sense in a first-date scenario, but to me, not where people have a history of years of sexual activity.”
Backlash from the comments were brutal — and national in scope — resulting in Greene issuing a public apology within hours.
“I should have been more careful. I want to take ownership for that. The [media] reports don’t clearly reflect my intent or my position or my beliefs.” Greene said.
On Wednesday, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, argued vehemently for harassment training for lobbyists and for including a comprehensive list of protected classes, from religion to sexual orientation.
“I’d love to say that common sense is enough,” she said. “As a [former] staff member for the Legislature and as a legislator, I have personally been discriminated against for many of these reasons,” Arent said, specifically saying she had been discriminated against for her religion, gender, age and during a pregnancy.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, opposed the bill as having too many unanswered questions and suggested it be brought up during the regular legislative session beginning in January.
While Thurston said he supported protecting lawmakers and state employees, requiring training of privately employed lobbyists may go too far. “The effect is we are regulating our guests.”
The bill failed on a voice vote with five House members, including Greene and Thurston opposing it.
Late Thursday night, a staffer told The Salt Lake Tribune that the House would re-examine the issue.
Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, opened a bill file Thursday “to address this issue ... and we expect to pass it during the session,” Aundrea Peterson, House majority communications director, said in an email.