La. Senate panel backs anti-sexual harassment legislation

La. Senate panel backs anti-sexual harassment legislation

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An effort to ramp up Louisiana's sexual harassment policies and training is heading to the Senate floor.

A Senate panel gave legislation approval Wednesday. HB 524, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, requires all state agencies develop sexual harassment policies. The bill also mandates all state employees receive at least an hour of training each year. They also must file an annual report.

However, some lawmakers believe the bill does not go far enough.

"It's just a half of step and I was trying to get there faster," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

Hewitt argues giving individual agencies free reign with setting policies is a bad approach because it does not provide consistency. She fears it could lead to agencies handling cases differently. She instead wants lawmakers to set universal standards for all of state government.

"People sometimes go work for other agencies, so that needs to be uniform," said Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, agreeing with Hewitt.

In recent months, sexual harassment cases have made headlines in Louisiana.

Johnny Anderson, the governor's deputy chief of staff, stepped down amid allegations last fall. Meanwhile, an employee in the Secretary of State's office filed a lawsuit against Tom Schedler, accusing him of a decade of harassment. Schedler says it was a "consensual relationship."

Wednesday's committee hearing came just one day after the Legislative Auditor released a report documenting 311 sexual harassment complaints across the executive branch of state government over a five-year period. That does not include any incidents that went unreported. Click here to read the whole report

The report also shows that over the past nine years, the state spent more than $5.1 million handling sexual harassment lawsuits.

Hewitt, who asked the auditor to compile the report, described those statistics as "saddening." She said even though she has concerns with the bill, she will support it. She does, however, plan to try to amend it on the Senate floor in order to require a universal policy across all of state government.

"At the end of the day, we want to change the culture so that everyone has a safe workplace that's free of sexual harassment," Hewitt explained.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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