The Indiana lawmaker who publicly accused Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill of drunkenly groping her in early 2018 has filed a series of bills allowing for the removal of elected officials who commit sexual misconduct and enhancing the penalties for such conduct.
Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, announced Friday that she has filed House Bills 1573, 1581, 1577 and 1574, all of which deal with sexual harassment. Two of the bills, 1573 and 1581, address sexual misconduct committed by public officials, while 1577 would expand the definition of “employers” who can be charged with workplace discrimination. For its part, HB 1574 would create the crime of lewd touching and would institute enhanced penalties for public officials who commit that crime.
“Through my own experience and through conversations with law enforcement and the public alike, it is clear that there are many loopholes in a system that should protect women and men from having to face sexual harassment in the workplace,” Reardon said in a Friday statement. “It is not a problem confined to government agencies but includes businesses across this state. It is important that our elected officials set the standard for behavior and provide a clear idea of what will happen to penalize those who choose to consistently engage in this conduct.”
Under the proposed language of HB 1573, a 12-member officeholder oversight commission would be created to investigate complaints against statewide elected officials who do not hold constitutional offices, including the attorney general and the superintendent of public instruction. If such officials are found guilty, the commission would have authority to remove them from office.
Lawmakers could also be removed for sexual or other misconduct “inconsistent with the Legislature’s high ethical standards.” Sexual misconduct would be defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors or unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Under 1581, statewide office holders, legislators, special state appointees and local elected officials who are charged with crimes unrelated to their official duties or who are found to have acted outside the scope of their duties would be prohibited from using taxpayer funds to pay for legal counsel or damages. And under 1577, employers with as few as one employee — versus the six-employee standard now in place under Indiana’s civil rights law — could be charged with workplace discrimination.
Finally, HB 1574 would define “lewd touching” as the act of knowingly or intentionally rubbing or fondling a person’s covered or uncovered genitals, pubic area or female breasts without the other person’s consent. That offense would be enhanced to a Level 6 felony for certain offenders, including statewide officeholders and legislators.
“What we want to emphasize is that people should look upon their workplace as somewhere they can be treated with respect,” Reardon said. “A better work environment leads to better productivity.
“All people — women and men alike — deserve the right to come to work without fear that they will be harassed or subject to behavior that should not be tolerated in a civilized society,” she continued. “The standards outlined in these four bills protect their rights and send a clear message that people who sexually harass others will face the consequences of their actions.”
Reardon’s bills come against the backdrop of sexual misconduct allegations against both Hill and House Speaker Brian Bosma, who has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a former intern in the 1990s. A special prosecutor declined to press criminal charges against Hill, finding that he could not prove the AG touched Reardon and the three other women in a rude, angry or insolent manner.
The four women responded with a tort claim notice indicating their intent to pursue a civil action against Hill. If the accusers prevail, state taxpayers could be on the hook to pay the damages awarded to the women.
Further, Hill has hired private attorneys to defend him against potential civil action and has created a legal defense fund, Fairness for Curtis Hill, to foot his legal bills. Hill’s attorney, Indianapolis employment lawyer Kevin Betz, has denied that he has been paid for his services through public funds.
Reardon’s sexual harassment legislation also comes as the House and Senate are in the process of revising their codes of ethics to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment by a lawmaker. The Senate Ethics Committee approved proposed language earlier this week, while the House Ethics Committee heard public testimony on Thursday.
The Indiana General Assembly website does not yet indicate which committee(s) Reardon’s bills will be assigned to.
“It is my strong hope that the Leaders in the General Assembly will join me and the chorus of people who have been affected by this broken system in seeking these necessary workplace protections for all Hoosiers,” she said.