Senate ethics committee passes sexual harassment amendment

The Senate Ethics Committee unanimously passed an amendment to its internal ethics rules Monday, defining sexual harassment for the first time.

Ethics Committee Chair Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, reiterated that sexual harassment “will not be tolerated” in the Indiana Senate. She added that as independent legislators, the committee would take a progressive attack to pass the amendment.

“I might just add, this is the only reason we’re here today, is to pass this draft so that we can move forward,” Brown addressed the committee Monday. “Because, I might remind everybody, until we pass these amendments to our code of ethics, our code of ethics does not include a definition of sexual harassment.”

The policy defines sexual harassment and protected activity, among other things. It also spells out the disciplinary process for harassment. The amendment would also specifically prohibit lawmakers from having sexual contact or conduct with an intern, “consensual or not.”

“With respect to interns … we consider them to be a unique position in our legislative body, that even if they are consenting adults, that that behavior is prohibited,” Brown said.

Adoption of Statehouse harassment policies comes after Attorney General Curtis Hill was accused of groping a lawmaker and legislative aides last year, and after House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, was accused last year of a consensual sex act with an intern 20 years earlier. Both men have denied the claims.

Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said her only concern is with transparency.

“Where does the public have the ability to ascertain this information and be aware of what’s going on?” Breaux asked. “I think it needs to have the availability to see the light of day, if it warrants.”

The Senate and House will each draft their own ethics rules and conduct training for their respective lawmakers. Members of the House will attend a mandatory two-hour ethics training today. Senate and House ethics committees will review specifics of the proposed policy required under last year’s House Enrolled Act 1309 before sending it to both chamber floors for a full vote this session. 

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