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Arizona House Launches Sexual Harassment Investigations

Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic

The Arizona House is investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature, including a Scottsdale lawmaker’s assertion that another member of the chamber told her he wanted to have a romantic relationship with her.

The investigations announced Wednesday by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard will examine harassment allegations made by Reps. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale and Kelly Townsend of Mesa, said Matthew Specht, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus.

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

The response to sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo social-media movement has spread to statehouses across the country.

Nearly three weeks ago, Ugenti-Rita revealed in a social media post that she encountered sexual harassment at the Legislature soon after taking office in early 2011, but didn’t reveal who allegedly harassed her. In an interview aired Tuesday by (KTVK-TV), Ugenti-Rita said Rep. Don Shooter of Yuma harassed her.

The TV station reported that Shooter initially apologized in a statement, saying he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.” But Shooter later issued another statement to the station saying he withdraws the apology and denies Ugenti-Rita’s allegations.

In a written statement Wednesday, Shooter said he asked for a probe into the allegations.

“I requested an investigation by the House which is now underway. Therefore I am unable to comment further except to provide my full support and cooperation,” Shooter said.

Townsend issued a statement Wednesday saying she been on the “receiving end of both unwanted sexual advances by more than one person as well as intimidating behavior and retaliation by another in a position of power” in the past.

Townsend, who didn’t immediately return a call Wednesday afternoon from The AP, didn’t reveal who had allegedly harassed her. Her statement said two House leaders were able to correct the situation.

Two weeks after Ugenti-Rita first made the allegations, the Arizona House issued a written harassment policy. Under the new policy, a House member experiencing harassment can report it to the chamber’s attorney or the chiefs of staff from either party.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statement saying he supported Mesnard’s decision to launch the investigations.

“There can be absolutely no tolerance for sexual harassment in the halls of our state Capitol, or any other organization — private or public,” Ducey said.

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