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Senator punished over alleged touching

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon state senator was stripped of his committee assignments Friday because of "ongoing workplace issues," days after a senate colleague said she's been inappropriately touched by at least one member of the chamber.

Senate President Peter Courtney took the action against Republican Sen. Jeff Kruse, discipline Courtney described as "unprecedented," The Oregonian/OregonLive reported . The move takes away Kruse's ability to introduce and influence legislation.

The sanctions come days after Democratic Sen. Sara Gelser posted on Twitter that she had been subject to inappropriate touching by at least one Senate Republican. She didn't identify anyone by name and wasn't available for comment Friday afternoon.

When the newspaper asked Courtney whether Kruse was disciplined for inappropriate touching, Courtney said "the personnel issues have been identified in this conversation." He also confirmed that Kruse's previously known violation of smoking in his Capitol office was a factor.

Kruse, 66, said in an email, "The inappropriate behavior I completely categorically deny. The smoking still is an issue that I will not deny."

Kruse denied having inappropriately touched Gelser and said that, to the best of his knowledge, the sanctions he faces and Gelser's accusations of inappropriate touching are "not connected."

Kruse, a farmer who was first elected to the Oregon House in 1996 and the Senate in 2004, faced fines last year for smoking cigarettes in his office despite being told not to do so by state regulators.

Gelser took to Twitter Monday after former Oregon Senate Republicans spokesman Jonathan Lockwood accused her of taking campaign donations from disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexually harassing and abusing numerous women over decades.

Weinstein donated $5,000 to the Democratic Party of Oregon during the 1995-1996 election cycle, a decade before Gelser was elected to the Legislature.

On Twitter, Gelser said she had taken no such donations and asked Lockwood if he would make sure no member of the Senate Republican Caucus "inappropriately touches or gropes" female lawmakers and staffers. Gelser later tweeted that sexual harassment occurs in the Capitol "despite formal complaints."

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Associated Press 2017

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