OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska legislature is confronting its own culture and its policies on sexual harassment following the report that a now-resigned senator took inappropriate photos of a staff member.
Mike Groene has officially resigned from the legislature, after legislative aide Kristina Konecko came forward about objectifying photos she says she found of herself on Groene's computer.
On Tuesday, Sen. Dan Hughes, chair of the executive board which acts as de facto HR for the legislature, announced that an internal investigation committee had been formed. The members of that committee are Sen. Tom Briese, Sen. John Arch and Sen. Anna Wishart.
Hughes said there were two avenues that can be taken when a report like this is made. The complainant and the person being accused can come to an informal agreement. In this case, the complainant did not find it agreeable.
"That is her choice and her right under our policy," Hughes said.
Hughes said, it will now be up to the committee to look into the matter. In this instance, an outside investigator will conduct an investigation and report back to the committee. Hughes says reports will be shared with the legislative body and the public.
“This formal investigation will be thorough, prompt, will continue to protect the complainant's rights, while also ensuring the legislature and public has confidence in our process," Hughes said.
The investigation will also look at the legislature's current procedures to determine if any changes need to be made.
“While we all hope nothing like this happens again, it is our responsibility to find a way to improve our policies," Hughes said.
Hughes added that Groene's email, computer and cellphone had been searched, and at this time there is no evidence the photos were sent to any other senator or staff member.
Several senators said the procedure for reporting an investigation needs an overhaul.
“The historical sexual harassment in any government entity has often been met with attempts to cover up the transgression because someone has decided that the work is too important," said Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh.
Some took issue with the committee only having one woman.
“They’re going to come forward and tell us how we should feel about what happens to us when people touch us. When people make jokes about us," said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. "And now people are going to say, 'Oh this horrible because we can’t take a joke.'"
Sen. Megan Hunt said Groene's description of events were classic victim-blaming, with his comments about how Konecko should have talked to him if she was upset and that she was "straight-laced."
“What we need to do as an institution is to take measures to ensure the blame is never put on the people who come forward, on the people who report," said Hunt. "The shame belongs on the people who put these people down, who oppress, who harass, who abuse.”
Several female senators shared their experiences of harassment that has happened to them on and off the legislative floor.
They say the legislature needs to come into the 21st century and have a formal human resources department and possibly an ethics committee to make it easier to report these incidents.
"I think our leadership is doing a good job with following the policy as written, but it’s clear that these policies need to change and they needed to change years ago," said Sen. Julie Slama.
At the request of the Attorney General, the Nebraska State Patrol is launching a criminal investigation into Groene’s conduct.