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Minnesota Dems requiring training to avoid more sexual harassment

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton

ST. PAUL — Changes are starting days after two Minnesota legislators were accused of sexual harassment.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party announced Monday, Nov. 13, that it will require candidates receiving party support to take sexual harassment and workplace conduct training. And Gov. Mark Dayton, who has asked that both lawmakers resign, ordered a review of all state policies on sexual harassment and assault.

Also on Monday, the attorney for a female lobbyist who accuses Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, of years of sexual harassment sent letters to Cornish and the Minnesota House demanding that evidence be preserved, a sign the lobbyist is considering a lawsuit.

Other women are deciding whether they should come forward with accusations against Cornish as well, the lawyer said.

The story expanded Monday as another female lawmaker said male colleagues have harassed her.

Cornish and Sen. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, each have been the target of calls to resign from officials since women accursed them last week of harassment.

Neither has quit and both deny doing anything improper.

The allegations influenced how Democrats will deal with candidates.

"Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed," party Chairman Ken Martin said.

As an attempt to prevent future problems, Martin announced the DFL will require "any campaign receiving official party support to attend a comprehensive training on sexual harassment."

The DFL training will be for candidates and campaign staff. If campaign do not take training, Martin said, they will not have access to voter files and other services the state party performs.

New legislators, after they are elected, have been required to take that training. They often take refresher courses once they are in office. After the recent allegations, all lawmakers are expected to take training before next year's session.

State officials also may make changes. Dayton ordered Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget to "immediately" examine all state harassment policies and training the state offers.

"I am requesting your recommendations for how we should improve these policies and procedures,"

Dayton wrote to Frans.

Last week, Dayton said Schoen should resign. On Monday, he extended the same call to Cornish.

"The governor believes any legislator who commits acts of sexual harassment or sexual assault should resign," a Dayton spokesman said.

Schoen, a Cottage Grove police officer, is accused of conduct that ranges from unwanted advances to grabbing the buttocks of a female candidate. He has hired a lawyer in anticipation of a possible ethics investigation.

The Cottage Grove police chief placed Schoen on desk duty, taking him off the streets.

Cornish is accused of conduct that includes unwanted advances toward a lobbyist. He is about to be the focus of an independent human resources investigation at the request of House leaders.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, last week suspended Cornish from his chairmanship of the influential House Public Safety Committee.

WCCO-TV reported Monday night that Assistant House Minority Leader Laurie Halverson, D-Eagan, has been harassed by male legislators several times, starting in 2015. She would not name the men.

She told the Twin Cities station about three incidents, including one lawmaker showing her a photo of a male's genitals, "against my will."

"I wanted to run," Halverson said.

She said that she will not file a formal complaint. "As soon as I report names, the story returns right around to me."

Halvorson said she knows of other women who have been sexually harassed at the Capitol.

The Cornish situation on Monday drew a demand to not destroy potential evidence.

In his letter to Cornish, attorney Scott Flaherty laid out some of the lobbyist’s allegations,

"To be clear, this was the lobbyist whom you pushed against your office wall and tried to kiss, and to whom you wrote: 'Would it scare you if I said I was just interested in good times, good wine, good food and good sex?'" the letter said about a text Cornish sent.

Cornish has denied pushing the lobbyist — who has not been named publicly — against a wall, calling the allegation one of several "damned lies."

As for the text message, Cornish, who is single, said, “I own them."

In his letter to Cornish, Flaherty wrote: "We are still investigating the full scope of your misconduct, and we understand that other female victims are still deciding whether and how they can safely come forward."

Don Davis of Forum News Service and Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this report.

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