As state legislatures across the county take steps toward updating their sexual harassment policies, Republican lawmakers who dominate the Indiana General Assembly appear to be adopting a wait-and-see approach.
The actions in other states come after a wave of sexual misconduct allegations hit powerful men in public office, Hollywood and the media, igniting the #MeToo movement.
This week alone, lawmakers in Arizona, Idaho, Rhode Island and Tennessee underwent detailed sexual harassment training, some for the first time. And a Florida Senate panel voted to mandate an hourlong course.
That contrasts with Indiana, where lawmakers are not required to take sexual harassment training and no specific sexual harassment policy governs their conduct.
Lawmakers are not governed by a specific sexual harassment policy. Rather, the codes of conduct in the House and Senate each call for legislators to behave with “high moral and ethical standards.”
Legislative staffers, on the other hand, must follow a sexual harassment policy that forbids unwanted whistling, touching, pinching and requests for sexual favors, along with more overt unwanted sexual behavior.
While lawmakers are not required to take sexual harassment training, the two chambers differ when it comes to staff members. In the Senate, staffers are required to have training yearly. Such training is done periodically in the House, said Erin Reece, spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma.
House and Senate officials say no sexual harassment complaints have been filed since 2008. But if one were filed, it would be treated like all other harassment complaints: Employees would have to report it to their immediate supervisor or other high-level staffers.
That should trigger a confidential investigation. Consequences for employees may include termination of employment and civil or criminal prosecution, according to the legislative employees’ handbook.
Neither the House nor the Senate clearly outlines the consequences lawmakers face. But staffers who knowingly file a false accusation could be disciplined or fired.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, of Anderson, is proposing legislation that would overhaul the Legislature’s sexual harassment policies.
The plan calls for mandating sexual harassment training for lawmakers and would add into law “a process for reporting and investigating complaints of sexual harassment,” said his spokeswoman, Gabrielle McLemore.
The Republican majorities, however, are noncommittal. Bosma, the House leader, said there have been talks about updating the policies but declined to say if action will come this legislative session.
“I’m not opposed to it by any means,” the Indianapolis Republican said last week.
In a statement, Senate Republican spokeswoman Molly Swigart said lawmakers are considering “adding a mandatory anti-sexual harassment component to the existing annual ethics training.”