BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Anti-sexual harassment policies and mandatory training for all state public servants are one step closer to becoming a reality.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved anti-sexual harassment bills Wednesday sponsored by three female legislators-- Rep. Barbara Carpenter and Sen. Regina Barrow, both Democrats from Baton Rouge, and Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.
"The bill would give opportunities for victims to have more latitude and would encourage reporting because we know these things typically go under-reported," said Hewitt.
All three bills would require public servants to receive a minimum of one hour of education and training on preventing sexual harassment annually.
The bills come after allegations of sexual harassment against Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Johnny Anderson, an aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who resigned in November.
State Division of Administration records indicate that Louisiana taxpayers have paid $3.9 million since 2004 to settle sexual harassment and gender-based claims involving state employees.
Carpenter's bill, the furthest along in the legislative process, would require each agency to compile an annual report regarding workers' compliance with the proposed policies.
Carpenter said she was "not quite yet" ready to include sanctions to workers who failed to complete the training.
Hewitt's bill would require an additional hour of training for supervisors and the distribution of a sexual harassment prevention handbook to state employees.
She differentiated her proposed bill from the others because of the bill's inclusion of a discipline process. The other bills do "not have remedial training as I do," Hewitt said. "Those that have violated would get one-on-one coaching."
In each agency, a sexual harassment coordinator would exist. Victims could report to a third option outside of their workplace, a sexual harassment coordinator within the Division of Administration, to ensure confidence in an investigation.
An amendment requiring authorities to also examine during investigations whether a pay discrepancy existed was added.
"If someone turns down unwanted sexual advances, sometimes a retaliation would disallow merit pay increases or would create a discrepancy in pay," Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said.
Some senators questioned the cost of implementing the training programs. Civil-service workers would be paid their hourly wages while completing the training.
Barrow said that the cost of implementation would be "nominal."
The training programs would begin in 2019 if the bills pass.
A total of five bills in the legislative session focus on sexual harassment. Multiple senators suggested streamlining the various bills into a single comprehensive bill.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has called for Schedler's resignation, but the secretary of state has refused to resign. He plans to finish his term and not seek re-election in 2019, and the state is required to pay for his legal defense.
Anderson, who was Edwards' deputy chief of staff for programs and planning, resigned after allegations were made public that he had harassed a woman he supervised. Louisiana taxpayers will have to pay $85,000 to settle the harassment suit.