AUSTIN, Texas – Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan called for reforms to some of the chamber’s policies relating to sexual harassment training and reporting days after an allegation came to light that a lobbyist used a date rape drug on a Capitol staffer.
“These allegations shake our Capitol family to its core,” the first-term Republican speaker said soon after the House gaveled in Monday, “and I am disgusted that this sort of predatory behavior is still taking place in and around our Capitol.”
On Saturday, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed it had opened an investigation into a complaint made recently by a Capitol staffer. But officials so far declined to comment on further details, including the names of anyone allegedly involved. The news was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.
News of the allegation prompted state lawmakers, staffers and other Capitol observers to denounce the alleged incident, with some House members declaring on social media they were banning any lobbyist or lobby firm associated with the accusation from their Capitol offices.
By Sunday, HillCo Partners, a prominent Austin-based lobby firm, told state lawmakers in an email that it had launched an internal investigation into the matter, with one co-founder of the firm later telling The Texas Tribune that HillCo had been “tipped off” that one of its employees “is a person of interest” in the investigation.
Following is an email the firm sent to KSAT 12 News:
“Hillco Partners joins the Capitol community in condemning any form of violence or other unwanted conduct against women and strongly supports the right of women to have their voices heard and believed. The reported incident is abhorrent and, once investigated and found to be accurate, should be dealt with in the strongest legal manner possible. The men and women of Hillco Partners take these allegations extremely seriously. We do not and will not tolerate a culture where anyone is not valued with respect and dignity.
When the rumors emerged yesterday on social media, Hillco Partners immediately hired outside counsel and a respected former law enforcement official to conduct an internal investigation. If facts come to light that anyone associated with HillCo partners had any involvement with such conduct, that person will be immediately terminated. Hillco will cooperate with law enforcement in its investigation. In the meantime we have taken aggressive steps internally to address this issue. We are resolute in our commitment in this regard.”
Phelan said he was directing the House General Investigating Committee to establish an email hotline for staffers in House offices to submit reports or complaints of harassment in the workplace.
The speaker also said he had directed the House Administration Committee to change the chamber’s required sexual harassment prevention training to be completed in-person rather than virtually.
“I stand here today having to address these disgusting, detestable allegations that are a symptom of a culture that has been festering in this building for far too long,” Phelan said during his speech. “There is an active investigation underway, and we must let that process play out. However, this sort of behavior has no place in this Capitol, and moving forward, we can and will do better.”