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11/16/2018 11:01:00 AM
Indiana Legislature developing sexual harassment policy

Scott L. Miley, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana General Assembly is on a path to develop policies, due by Tuesday, aimed at preventing sexual harassment and governing the conduct of legislators.

Beginning in the next session, legislators are to undergo an hour of instruction in preventing sexual harassment. That's in addition to the hour they currently have for ethics instruction.

The two sessions might be combined to "emphasize the moral and ethical connections between sexual harassment prevention and other ethical matters," according to a report from the Legislative Council Personnel Subcommittee

The council is chaired by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and includes three House members and four state senators. The council is to develop a sexual harassment prevention policy by Nov. 20, after which it could be reviewed and approved by both chambers.

Tuesday is Organization Day when both chambers meet before the 2019 session begins Jan. 3.

As set out by a House bill signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb, the policies pertain to elected legislators and not staffers — although people among the two groups could become embroiled in a complaint.

"The staff of the House and the Senate, they have their own handbook with their own procedures and their own policy and they have for several years," State Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, said. Sullivan served on the subcommittee.

"This one has to do with legislators because there really wasn't anything that addressed that," said State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, who also serves on the Personnel Subcommittee. "What we put together was kind of a procedure if it happens, and this who you report to, and this is what we do and this is who's going to investigate it. It's a series of steps."

Currently, the House and Senate have differing approaches in investigating complaints. Those would be reformed under proposed amendments to those bodies' code of ethics.

Tallian added, "There wasn't really a plan. There wasn't a series of who you report to and who is supposed to do what next. So hopefully that's what we have."

Among subcommittee recommendations:

• The House and Senate should adopt amendments to their codes of ethics that addresses sexual harassment and retaliation, using guidelines by the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

• Officials assigned to investigation complaints of sexual harassment should undergo additional training to guide them.

Research involved an examination of policies in 37 states and the EEOC, among others. If the Legislative Council adopts the recommendations, the policy would face review by House and Senate members. 

"I feel there was a very strong bipartisan approach to putting together the recommendations," Sullivan said. "I feel like we did what we were directed to do to put together a sexual harassment policy."

Tallian added that the policy could be applied to a legislator who sexually harasses a staffer.

The need for a policy was discussed before Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill was investigated by a special prosecutor for alleged misconduct at an Indianapolis bar following the last day of the 2018 legislative session in March.

In October, the special prosecutor said no criminal charges would be sought against Hill. However, the three-month investigation found Hill may have inappropriately touched seven women, including a state representative, three legislative staffers and three lobbyists.

Four of the women have said they plan to file a civil lawsuit against Hill and the state of Indiana.

The legislative policy would not address situations such as the one involving Hill.

"That is an independently elected official from the executive branch and would probably not be covered by this" Tallian said. "Although it might tell somebody what it is that they should do and who it is they should go to, or make a complaint to."

The subcommittee met in executive session on Nov. 7 and “adopted a proposed report” on a sexual harassment prevention policy, said Erin Reece, Director of Communications and Technology for Indiana House Republicans. The report needs approval by the Legislative Council.

Related Stories:
• Indiana attorney general won't be charged with crime for groping incidents
• Indiana Chamber tosses attorney general controversy on legislative agenda
• Indiana Legislative Council recommends adoption of sexual harassment policy
• Budget, workforce goals set in Indiana House for upcoming 2019 session

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