BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana House agreed Monday to require all state and local government agencies to enact anti-sexual harassment policies.
The policies would have to include a process for handling complaints, a ban against retaliation when someone files a complaint and mandatory one-hour harassment prevention training each year.
House lawmakers backed the bill with an 87-0 vote, sending the measure by Rep. Barbara Carpenter, a Baton Rouge Democrat, to the Senate for debate. If approved there, it would take effect in 2019.
“I certainly think this is a step in the right direction,” said Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat who leads the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus.
Louisiana currently lets government agencies to cobble together their own standards.
The state’s civil service department says most state agencies have established their own internal policies against sexual harassment and for handling complaints. The agency said at least 60 percent of state government and college employees take its anti-sexual harassment training on average each year. Local government agency policies aren’t tracked.
Carpenter’s bill contains annual reporting requirements about whether employees completed the mandated training and how many sexual harassment complaints the agency received.
Female lawmakers called for a review of existing state policies against sexual misconduct after accusations across the nation have unseated people in positions of power in Hollywood, the media and government. Several Louisiana officials recently have been accused of sexual harassment, including Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Johnny Anderson, a one-time deputy chief of staff to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Anderson resigned in November after the claims, but denies the allegations.
Schedler refused to step down, but said he won’t run for re-election next year. A lawsuit filed in February claims Schedler harassed a woman who worked in his office for years and punished her when she rebuffed repeated advances.
Schedler hasn’t responded directly to the allegations, but his spokeswoman said Schedler had a consensual sexual relationship with the woman, a claim the woman’s lawyer denied.
A review of records found the state has paid at least $2.6 million since 2004 to settle nearly four dozen sexual harassment claims, such as allegations made against college professors, judges, health care workers and one former state lawmaker. The data isn’t comprehensive, however, because it doesn’t cover any settlements or judgments paid by individual agencies or college campuses outside of the state-run insurance program.