The #MeToo movement has been instrumental in raising awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It has highlighted the unfortunate reality that no industry or community is immune to this epidemic and brought to the light the lack of formal processes for victims to report claims of workplace harassment and assault and employers to effectively address them. This has not just been true in Hollywood or private industry — it has also been true in Pennsylvania’s State Capitol.
A year ago, in the face of multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and even rape against sitting legislators, the only action that the Republicans leaders who control the Pennsylvania House and Senate were willing to take at the time was to pass a resolution to use taxpayer funds to study the problem.
A year later, the report from the Joint State Government Commission is back and guess what? There’s a problem.
Over the past five years, a total of 554 claims of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct were reported by staff of state agencies. Over $1.9M in taxpayer funds were used to settle these complaints.
Twenty-seven complaints were made by staffers in the House and affiliated legislative service agencies for hostile work environment, general harassment, or sexual harassment. Seven of those complaints were specific to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Nine complaints were made by staffers in the Senate (which for some reason was not included in the original report).
Our concern all along has been that the current process for a victim to file a complaint is unclear. The report gives us proof by noting that sexual harassment policies vary from agency to agency. Each legislative caucus has its own policy, meaning there is a different policy for House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats.
We are also concerned that elected political leaders have undue influence over how complaints against elected legislators are handled. The report notes that in matters of complaints against a legislator from the Republican caucus, the Republican leader determines the applicable investigative procedure — not a human resource professional.
We need to take the politics out of the process. It’s time to move H.B. 1000 and S.B. 480, #MeToo bills that create an independent office to investigate sexual harassment complaints and require legislators to pay back taxpayers for settlements when an investigation finds that they have sexually harassed staff members. H.B. 1000 was referred to the House State Government Committee on April 2. S.B. 480 was referred to the Senate Labor and Industry Committee on April 8. We call on Republican leaders to take up these bills as soon as possible.
The report from the Joint State Government Commission is clear: There’s a problem in the State Capitol and it is time to act.