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Oregon lawmakers battle labor commission's #MeToo probe

Oregon lawmakers battle labor commission's #MeToo probe

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Oregon’s Legislature on Friday battled an effort by the state’s labor commissioner to investigate sexual harassment in the state Capitol, saying he lacks jurisdiction and would violate privacy of people who came forward under assurances their identities wouldn’t be disclosed.

An attorney for a law firm hired by the Legislature said in a 35-page response to Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian’s complaint and subpoena for documents that he is overstepping his authority.

“The Commissioner’s Complaint is an attempt to violate the Constitution’s strong protection of the separation of powers,” the response written by attorney Edwin Harnden said.

In a telephone interview, Harnden said Avakian’s Bureau of Labor and Industry is part of the executive branch and simply does not have jurisdiction over the Legislature’s rules and policies over the discipline of members.

Republican Sen. Jeff Kruse resigned this year as the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct swept politics, entertainment and other industries. He was accused of inappropriate touching of women in the Capitol.

Avakian’s complaint, filed with his own department, accused Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, both fellow Democrats, of allowing a sexually hostile environment and of being slow to protect women from Kruse.

Harnden said the Legislature is already working to tighten policies against harassment, and that the Bureau of Labor and Industry was a part of it. Avakian’s Aug. 1 complaint came as a surprise.

“It was a great collaborative effort that was going on,” Harnden told The Associated Press. “It was the best of all worlds … then the BOLI commissioner made the decision to move all of it to a legal process. So instead of collaboration to solution they decided to make it a litigation process.”

Avakian did not immediately return phone messages left with his office seeking comment.

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Published at Fri, 31 Aug 2018 23:25:20 +0000