La. state lawmakers review sexual harassment policies

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Sexual harassment is in the national spotlight and Louisiana lawmakers rallied to make sure their own policies for members of the Senate and House are up to par.

"I truly believe that it is our duty, as elected leaders, to set the tone that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the government," said Representative Helena Moreno. "It certainly will not be tolerated here at the state capital."

Representatives from the House and Senate testified to the Select Committee on Women and Children Friday afternoon. The Senate said their policy on sexual harassment was first adopted in 1997 and hasn't been amended since, but claimed their rules lay out a clear statement against unwanted advances, requiring all members of the Senate to take an annual sexual harassment training course.

"A lot people don't realize the things that they are doing or saying are actually offensive," said Committee Chair Senator Regina Barrow. "So this training actually assures that they have that knowledge because it could goes through what sexual harassment is and gives you a examples."

The legislature's rules regarding civil rights were also established decades ago, but have since been revised to include sexual harassment claims. Most recently as last year, a very specific statement about enforcement was added. The revision states, "A complaint of harassment or sexual harassment shall be immediately investigated by the office of human resources. The investigation shall be completed within 15 working days."

The findings, whether the issue originated in the House or Senate, will then be reported to the chief of staff and the employee will be subject to disciplinary action. Barrow said she looks ahead to a time when these incidents don't exist. "I do not want anyone to have to work in a work environment where they are feeling threatened, where they're feeling not safe, or their job is in jeopardy."

Other ideas tossed around to improve the policies included possibly requiring lawmakers to take a survey to make sure they understand the policies or display the rules.

The conclusion was made that revisions were needed that represent change. "I'm really glad that women and men are stepping up to the plate and saying, 'No, no more,'" Barrow said. "We will no longer be silent, we will no longer be quiet. We are going to come forth and speak the truth."

"My guess is that it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Senator Sharon Hewitt. "We're looking at it from an intellectual standpoint. We need to look at the actual implementation of it so we can have the best policies and laws, but if people still aren't comfortable reporting things and it appears things are getting addressed in a timely manner, then the policies don't matter."

We're told the committee will immediately begin researching ways to improve policies.

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