Legislature's Women's Caucus pushing for new sexual harassment rules

Updated: Dec. 28, 2017 at 5:39 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Members of the State Legislature's Women's Caucus are hoping for some new rules in the new year to protect against sexual harassment.

The effort began in 2016 during the debate over age limits for dancers, and it appears to be gaining momentum.

"I got to say, looking out I've never been so repulsed," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, at the time.

An amendment that was later pulled by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, offended many.

"I put an age limit on so no one can be over 28 or more than 160 pounds," said Havard.

"I can't believe the behavior in here. We have to call an end to this," said Stokes from the House floor.

Since then, allegations of sexual harassment have surfaced against a wide range of national figures from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, and the Women's Caucus is taking action.

"Looking back that was sexual harassment, but some saw it as a bad joke," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

The problem, according to some, is that there are rules for government employees, but not a for members of the Legislature.

"I do think you will see some legislation in the next session," said Stokes.

"I will be involved in many aspects of looking at our policies and best practices," said Hewitt.

Hewitt says she has seen sexual-harassment first-hand in the 1980s when she worked in the oil industry she and other women were prohibited from entering petroleum clubs across the state.

"I experienced a lot of things that would be considered sexual harassment, but they were handled quickly," said Hewitt.

Many say things have changed, but there still room for improvement.

"I was told, 'Little lady, why are you so worried about financials? Women should be home barefoot and pregnant.' It's so archaic. Let's stop dragging our knuckles and have the debate."

The women's caucus has been working on new sexual harassment training protocol as well as new rules for state lawmakers and other employees. They will hold a hearing next month. And women concerned about sexual harassment hope to have some new legislation on the table this spring.

Hewitt says part of the problem is fed by the fact that there are still much fewer females in state government in Louisiana compared with other states. She says Louisiana ranks 48th when it comes to female representation in government.

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