The House now has an intern policy and an updated sexual harassment policy, but more changes could be coming.
The House Committee on Administration and Accounts voted to enact the proposed policy Thursday, but its chairman says it will hold at least one additional hearing to consider proposed changes.
The policy makes more people in the House mandated reporters – people who have to report any instance of harassment or violations of the policy they know of.
Taylor Hirth says she was harassed by former senator Paul LeVota in 2010. She told lawmakers she wants mandated reporting removed from the policy altogether.
“I feel like that’s going to push a lot of people back into silence as opposed to bringing them forward,” said Hirth. “When its people who are not able to speak for themselves or don’t have that kind of power, then, yeah, but when it’s adults dealing with a private situation I think that should be up to them.”
Others testified mandated reporting is a necessity but having people victims could talk to that aren’t required to report should also be considered. Several lawmakers then expressed concern about the message that might be sent if the House designated people who could learn about abuses but could choose not to report them.
“Victims advocates are very clear that there needs to be a safe harbor reporting place,” said the Chief Clerk of the House, Adam Crumbliss. “That safe harbor, however, can’t also be a House employee that is shielded from the reporting duty.”
Crumbliss says networks forming outside the legislature could provide that “safe harbor” reporter.
It was also suggested the committee consider requiring that at the end of investigations of harassment claims involving a legislator, the final report of that investigation be released.
Representative Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia) told the committee, “Currently as the House policy is laid out all final investigations done by outside counsel would remain confidential as a personnel matter. The Accounts Committee may want to consider whether the investigations involving House members may be released at the end once the investigation is final and completed, and in such a way that protects the victim’s identity.”
Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City says even if victims’ identities are redacted, people inside the Capitol would go to great lengths to identify them once a report came out.
Barnes told the committee, “If you have an automatically policy of making the complaints public it is going to have, I believe, an incredibly chilling effect on victims coming forward.”
Barnes added, “In ever single case in which there is a complaint made, a victim would have the opportunity to make the allegations public on their own. Automatically making them public takes power away from the victim in these cases.”
The committee also did not vote on requiring outside counsel to investigate claims of harassment. Because the chief clerk would have to hire such counsel, that will require a vote by the full chamber once the committee approves it.
Chairman Mike Leara said there were questions regarding how that would work – “How that process is determined, who will they pick, what is the process for hiring outside counsel?”
The committee is expected to meet again by or shortly after the start of the new session in January. In the meantime, Leara has asked anyone who wants to propose changes to submit those proposals to him in writing.