Nebraska congressman chastised for graphically describing rape to a colleague.

An outside investigator found that Republican state Sen. Steve Halloran violated the body's workforce sexual harassment policy by invoking a colleague's name while reading a graphic account of rape on the Legislature floor. The board issued a letter of reprimand.  

Multiple senators criticized state Sen. Ray Aguilar, head of the Legislature's Executive Board, for his pronouncement Wednesday, saying Halloran should have been censured by the complete body.  

This is embarrassing and disappointing,” said Democratic state Sen. John Cavanaugh, who Halloran targeted along with his sister and fellow Democratic lawmaker Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh. As of today, the Exec Board disapproves of this language, but the Legislature has not.”  

The investigation and punishment followed Halloran repeatedly calling out “Sen. Cavanaugh” while reading a horrific tale of rape from a best-selling biography, making it appear as if the politician was assaulted. His dramatized reading from Alice Sebold's memoir "Lucky" occurred on March 18 amid debate of a bill that would have criminalized school librarians and teachers for delivering “obscene material” to K-12 kids.  

Like most in the chamber, Machaela Cavanaugh understood Halloran's explicit statements to be directed at her, and she was clearly shaken thereafter. Later, Halloran said he was using her brother's name to get him to notice the remarks.  

In the Wednesday report, an outside investigator found that Halloran's remarks violated the Legislature's workplace harassment policy, which prohibits sexually oriented remarks or discussion, graphic remarks about a person's body, clothing, or sexual activity, and verbal abuse.  

“This outside investigative team believes Sen. Halloran's conduct and comments were reprehensible and should not be tolerated because they may lead to or foster a hostile work environment,” the report adds. The investigation ruled that the Legislature could censure Halloran without affecting his ability to speak on legislation or serve on committees. The investigator concluded expulsion or any interference with Halloran's duties would violate his free speech rights.  

Halloran denied “that I was harassing anyone” and was confused by several colleagues' “righteous indignation” about his remarks. “There’s no concern about the kids and how a book like that might affect them,” Halloran said Wednesday. Machaela Cavanaugh praised numerous lawmakers who publicly protected her and denounced Halloran. She labeled Republican lawmakers who defended Halloran or remained silent “morally bankrupt.”  

Your silence is complicit,” she remarked. “I don't mind if you compliment me. I care about your public silence. “You want to protect children from porn, but you don't care if my children watch this public media circus!”  

Not all Republicans in Nebraska's one-chamber, nonpartisan Legislature have ignored Halloran's comments. GOP state Sen. Julie Slama has frequently criticized Halloran's remarks and the Legislature's refusal to vote on a censure motion. "If he respected this institution or his colleagues, he would resign," Slama said.  

Lawyer Sen. Wendy DeBoer hopes to pursue a rule change next year to give lawmakers greater time to object to floor speech language. Legislative procedures require lawmakers to object immediately to inappropriate remarks. "I think we should learn from our difficulties here that our rules don't work—that particular one," she remarked. “We should hold each other accountable.  

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