A Democratic state representative has filed legislation that would create an explicit ban on sexual harassment in the statehouse and a process to handle complaints.
The legislature’s ethics rules don’t currently ban sexual harassment, though in recent years lawmakers have been punished for harassing employees under a rule that bans misuse of their official positions.
Rep. Kelly Flood, a Democrat from Lexington, says that after recent instances of harassment in the statehouse, the legislature is facing a “critical moment.”
“I can’t imagine my male colleagues at this point not seeing the wisdom in setting up rules and regs,” Flood said.
“But should they not, it really is a time that I intend to bring all of the weight that I can of 10 years in to say that ‘no, we really do have to deal with this.’”
Last year, then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover and Republican Reps. Brian Linder, Jim DeCesare and Michael Meredith secretly signed a settlement with a former staffer who claimed she had been harassed by the men.
Hoover admitted that he violated state ethics rules by exchanging sexually charged text messages with the woman, but during an ethics hearing earlier this year the commission dismissed a complaint against the three other representatives, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the men broke ethics rules.
Flood’s bill defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature” and gives the Legislative Ethics Commission jurisdiction over investigating alleged harassment between legislators, lobbyists and legislative employees.
The legislation also creates a tip line, sets up a 30-day complaint process and requires the legislature’s administrative arm to create an annual report on harassment complaints.
“The actual issue itself — sexual harassment — is not clearly defined. So there is a lot of room for interpretation of who knew what, when, what happened,” Flood said.
This bill also bans lawmakers and legislative employees from using taxpayer dollars to settle sexual-harassment complaints.
In 2016, the state paid $400,000 to settle two sexual harassment lawsuits against lawmakers and the Legislative Research Commission, the state agency that runs administrative operations in the state Capitol.
During this year’s legislative session, two Republican lawmakers proposed a bill to make sexual harassment a violation of the legislative ethics code and create a tip line to report harassment complaints, but the measure failed to get traction.