A bill aimed directly at combating sexual harassment in the Minnesota Legislature won’t be coming up for a vote this session. House File 3728 had until last night to pass at least one committee in order to move forward.
The bill, authored by Rep. Erin Murphy, would have created a citizen-led committee to review the Legislature’s handling of ethics complaints, including sexual harassment. It would have consisted of eight members, two appointed by leaders of each party from both the House and Senate.
According to Lisa Stratton, co-founder and senior counsel for nonprofit St. Paul-based law firm Gender Justice, it is vital to fix what she calls a “broken system” of reporting these concerns in the Legislature.
“The current practice in the House requires not only written complaints – which is contrary to all research on best practices to find out about complaints – but requires two members to bring the written complaint,” says Stratton.
Sexual harassment has been a major issue in the Statehouse. Late last year, both a representative and a senator stepped down amid harassment allegations, and the state says there have been 135 substantiated claims of sexual harassment across state government in the last seven years.
Frustration with current system
Stratton says the difficulty of getting a complaint through to the Ethics Committee means many people who experience sexual harassment are forced to find other means of coming forward.
“The complainant ends up making basically public complaints,” she says, “using the media to tell their story, because there is no working internal mechanism.”
Stratton adds the Legislature shares characteristics with other organizations that have been studied that make harassment more likely.
“There’s a skewed gender ratio; that the job duty – say, of being an elected official – was typically, historically masculine; and they have demonstrated at this point that there’s an organizational tolerance to harassing behavior,” she says.
The bill may be done for now, but Stratton says they’re not giving up. Gender Justice plans to get it re-introduced next session.