Louisiana House lacks policy against sexual harassment

Louisiana House lacks policy against sexual harassment

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Louisiana House of Representative has a policy on how someone can report instances of misconduct via committee, but it lacks a policy prohibiting sexual harassment in state government.

"When we looked at the House rules, there are no rules when it comes to sexual harassment," said State Rep. Helena Moreno.

Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards backed Sen. Sharon Hewitt's request to have the State Legislative Auditor see if sexual harassment policies need to be updated.

"The investigation that is currently underway will review the state's policies regarding sexual harassment, not just within the executive branch, and we will work with Sen. Hewitt and the entire Legislature to promote a safe, positive work environment for all state employees," said Edwards' Chief of Staff Mark Cooper said via an emailed statement.

The closer look at state rules and policies concerning sexual harassment comes a week after Edwards' Deputy Chief of Staff Johnny Anderson resigned when sexual harassment allegations surfaced against him.

"If we are slacking in any area in that place, then hopefully, we can pass either rules or laws that would straighten that out," said Senate President John Alario.

Alario said he welcomes the investigation into the state's sexual harassment policies, but he believes a Senate policy already in place is sufficient.

"Particularly in the Legislature, we are required each year, beside ethics training, to also put in an hour on sexual harassment. You have to do a test online and go through that process. I haven't heard of any [sexual harassment] going on. It doesn't mean I know everything that's going on. But to my knowledge, none of that has gone on in the legislative process," he said.

Currently, the Louisiana Senate's policy includes a paragraph stating:

"The Louisiana Senate is committed to creating and maintaining a work environment in which all members of the Senate, officers of the Senate, and employees are treated with respect and the individual dignity which they are due, and are free from sexual harassment. To this end, sexual harassment by or toward a member of the Senate, officers of the Senate, or employees of the Senate is prohibited and will not be tolerated."

"Certainly, there is room for improvement. In the House, we need to put in new rules. In the Senate, we need to enhance those and have procedures in place as to what happens if a member is involved in some type of harassment, as well," Moreno said.

Moreno, who was recently elected to New Orleans City Council, sees the national movement against sexual harassment as a way to protect anyone in the workplace. During her research into the state's policies, Moreno found a loophole that exempts legislators from having a sexual harassment claim brought against them through human resources.

"It was funny because myself and Senator Hewitt both got HR rules, and as we were going through the HR rules, Senator Hewitt even said, 'These look sufficient.' Until staff let us know, well, these are sufficient for full-time employees but not for part-time employees or legislators, who happen to be part-time employees," Moreno said.

The Legislative Auditor's look into state policies could take months before he makes any recommendations to legislators.

Moreno said next week she will be a part of a presentation that will review the House and Senate's sexual harassment policies publicly.

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