Mattiello: House will hire law firm to handle sexual harassment claims

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — During a taping Thursday of Dan Yorke State of Mind, R.I. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he plans to put a law firm on retainer to investigate any sexual harassment claims at the State House.

Initially, the Cranston Democrat told WPRO-AM this week that he wanted an office within the state legislature to investigate such claims and would hire a full-time worker to do so. He said on the radio that hiring an investigator when there are “very few problems” would be a waste of resources.

On Thursday, he said he has now changed his mind after “giving it a lot of thought.” Instead of hiring a full time worker within the State House office, he would retain a law firm. 

“It’s still a working process,” Mattiello said. “There are law firms that do human relations work that investigate for municipalities. Put them on retainer when you need them, hopefully extremely infrequently. We hire them, they come in, do a full investigation and report to the committee. The investigation will be private and the committee will be public.”

The need for a more formal process to investigate sexual harassment claims in the House became a topic of conversation after WPRI 12 revealed in October that a lower-ranking lawmaker had lodged an accusation against a powerful committee chairman.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat and member of the House Reform Caucus, has said sexual harassment claims should not be handled in-house by the legislature in order to keep investigations independent and avoid intimidating victims.

The newly formed Reform Caucus is a group of legislators calling for changes in the way things are traditionally done at the State House. The group, made up of more than a dozen lawmakers, all opposed Mattiello’s re-election as speaker last week.

In Thursday’s interview, Mattiello dubbed the group “high tax caucus” and argued their policy preferences would harm economic growth. Members have insisted they represent a range of viewpoints but are united around wanting a more open legislative process.

Supporters and allies of the Reform Caucus packaged a hearing Tuesday of the House Rules Committee, where more than two dozen testified against the House rules Mattiello has proposed for the new session. The committee is slated to vote on them later Thusday.

“Relative to the rules [hearing], you had a packed Rules Committee the other night; I might have gotten no more than two emails on it,” Mattiello said on Dan Yorke State of Mind. “Nobody is asking me about it, no one cares about it. This is an internal game with this ‘high tax caucus’ wanting to gain ground so they can pass their bad bills.”

The full episode of Dan Yorke State of Mind airs at 7:30 p.m. on myRITV and midnight on Fox Providence.

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