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Rhode Island Lawmaker Says She Was Told Sexual Favors Would Help Her Bills

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Providence, R.I. (AP) -- A Rhode Island lawmaker says a higher-ranking legislator told her sexual favors would allow her bills to go further.

Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi told the Providence Journal that she's among the many women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. She declined to identify the person involved.

Tanzi, who was elected in 2010, said she didn't report the harassment because she feared she wouldn't be taken seriously.

"I am a happily married woman and have not put out any signals," Tanzi said in an interview. "I'm sure if that person were to be asked, as often is the case in this situation, they would say, 'Oh, I was just joking, certainly didn't mean it.'"

Thousands of women are identifying themselves as victims by tweeting or posting "me too" following a call to action by actress Alyssa Milano after Hollywood mogul Weinstein's downfall over allegations of sexual misconduct spanning decades.

Rhode Island lawmakers expressed shock at Tanzi's experience.

"If true, that kind of behavior needs to be weeded out ... that's wild," said Democratic Rep. Marvin Abney, chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Democratic Rep. Kenneth Marshall said he'd never witnessed or heard anything similar, and Democratic Reps. Patricia Serpa and Deborah Ruggiero said they had never experienced harassment at the State House. Former Democratic Rep. Linda Finn, however, said she wasn't surprised by what Tanzi said.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello says he won't tolerate harassment. He plans to contact a human resources professional to provide training to House members and staff at the beginning of the next legislative session.

Mattiello said Tanzi plans to introduce legislation in January to create a commission to review Rhode Island's policies on sexual harassment and he supports that. Mattiello and Tanzi issued a joint statement Tuesday.

"The willingness of the House leadership to tackle this head-on gives me confidence that the chance I took in disclosing my experiences will result in significant change," Tanzi said.

Mattiello said the "overwhelming majority" of House members conduct themselves appropriately at all times.

The state Republican Party says the harasser should be identified and removed.

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