By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A Republican state senator who is set to lead a committee under a new legislative coalition violated a Senate policy on treatment of staff shortly after she was allowed back into the GOP caucus last year, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
A new report says Sen. Pam Roach, of Auburn, violated the policy in March by verbally attacking a Senate Republican staffer charged with upholding sanctions against Roach that prevented her from having direct contact with staff. The report was compiled by a subcommittee created last summer solely to investigate incidents involving Roach, who was kicked out of her caucus three years ago because of accusations of mistreating staff.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Roach said she didn’t know anything about the report.
“I’m looking into it,” Roach said. She declined to comment further.
Last month, two Democrats announced they would work with Republicans under a newly formed caucus called the “majority coalition” caucus and that Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina would be the new majority leader.
Roach was named chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations &Elections Committee under the new power structure.
Tom said he couldn’t comment on the specific allegations, but said the sanctions against Roach, which were reaffirmed under a legal settlement announced in September, would be lifted. He noted that senators are going through respectful workforce training.
“I want everybody to be treated like we would want to be treated,” he said.
The 2010 sanctions say Roach’s ability to have access to more staff is contingent upon her completing a plan for counseling or training. The documents obtained by the AP note Roach “has not taken even the slightest step to address the concerns” raised in 2010 by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, which oversees personnel issues.
The committee’s chairwoman, Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser, of Olympia, said the Dec. 17 report obtained by the AP was not the final version, and that a final report still needs to be provided to the full committee.
“The question is, ‘What will they do with it?’” said Fraser, who also was a member of the investigative subcommittee. “I don’t know.”
Fraser didn’t want to discuss specifics of the investigation but said, “We did our best to be fair.”
Democrats have a small majority in the Senate, controlling 26 of 49 seats. With the moves by Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon, of Potlatch, the new coalition holds a 25-24 advantage and plans to reconfigure that committee, allowing the sanctions against Roach to be lifted.
Roach was kicked out of her caucus in 2010. She was allowed back in last year during a key budget vote, but is still barred from having direct contact with Senate staff.
After Roach was allowed back into caucus, Mike Hoover, a senior Republican attorney for the Senate, sued the chamber and said he was subjected to a hostile and abusive workplace because of her. Under a settlement announced in September, the Senate reaffirmed its sanctions against Roach. Hoover now works in the House.
The report, which has not been released publicly, said Roach incorrectly believed that when Senate Republicans lifted caucus sanctions against her last year, she could once again have direct contact with caucus staff.
The subcommittee, comprised of Fraser and Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, found that during a caucus meeting in mid-March, Roach “directed anger, blame, and personally disparaging comments” at a staff member who was in charge of upholding the no-contact directive against Roach.
“This was a personal attack on the staffer,” the report says, noting that the other senators present “listened in silence.”
The report recommended that Senate Republican leaders and members clarify staff roles “to protect staff from being attacked for doing their jobs,” and take other actions to discourage violations of the chamber’s “Respectful Workplace Policy” as well as violations of the sanctions against Roach.
The report also noted an incident in March where Roach got in a heated discussion with another senator where Roach was “exceptionally loud and angry, and using highly inflammatory, accusatory, hostile, personal attack language” for up to 10 minutes. The report found that Roach did not violate any policy, noting that “vigorous and passionate debate between senators is not uncommon.”
Another document obtained by the AP showed the state has spent more than $125,000 on investigations and defenses of cases involving Roach. A suggested change to the policy would allow the Senate to seek reimbursement from any member whose violations of the policy cost the state money.
However, the document notes that since the committee that oversees the policy is expected to be reconfigured once the majority coalition officially takes power when the legislative session begins, that suggestion may never become public if the newly configured committee “finds this provision politically unappealing.”