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Louisiana lawmakers tracking new anti-sexual harassment law

Posted at 5:07 PM, Jan 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-22 18:07:29-05

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Louisiana legislative and state agencies have updated sexual harassment policies to conform to a new law, and lawmakers said Tuesday they intend to track compliance and search for any gaps in the provisions.

The state’s first government-wide policy against sexual harassment took effect this month, requiring agencies to enact policies that include a process for handling complaints, a ban against retaliation when someone files a complaint and mandatory annual prevention training.

A legislative task force received its first update Tuesday on how agencies are responding to the new requirements, which came after heightened attention amid the #MeToo movement and after several high-profile officials were accused of sexual misconduct.

“The Legislature is taking these issues very seriously,” said Rep. Greg Miller, a Norco Republican and vice chairman of the task force.

The House’s human resources director and the Senate’s chief of staff described changes made to the chambers’ sexual misconduct policies to match the new law’s requirements.

Shannon Templet with the House said descriptions of inappropriate conduct and changes to the complaint process were added to the policy, along with language specifically barring retaliation. She said the rewritten policy was posted online and emailed to employees. Jerry Guillot said the Senate’s updated policy should be posted online within a week.

The state civil service department said it updated web-based training courses in response to the new law, with rewritten courses for employees and supervisors available via download to all public agencies or via mailed CD for the cost of postage.

Lawmakers on the task force sought to ensure the House and Senate would be tracking compliance with the annual training requirement and applying the policy to legislators and all employees, whether full-time, part-time or seasonal.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the New Orleans Democrat whose legislation created the task force and who is chairing it, said she’s too often seen legislators, typically men, disrespect Senate staff members.

“We’re going to set a standard that is objective, that is worthy … and that is going to be the gold standard,” Peterson said.

Sen. Gerald Long, a Winnfield Republican, said he wants to make sure anyone who has been harassed feels comfortable to report the conduct without fear of losing a job or facing reprisal.

“I think it’s imperative that we establish the concept that you have safe haven,” he said.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, said also wanted to ensure the sexual harassment policies provide fair treatment to people who are accused of misconduct, to determine the validity of the claims.

Agency heads have to compile annual reports by February documenting the number of sexual harassment complaints received over the last year and the number of complaints that resulted in disciplinary action.

Louisiana has seen several high-profile sexual misconduct claims recently.

Tom Schedler resigned in May as secretary of state after being accused of sexual harassment in an employee’s lawsuit. Johnny Anderson, a former top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards, left his position in November 2017 amid claims he sexually harassed a woman in the governor’s office. Schedler and Anderson denied the allegations, which were resolved with taxpayer-financed settlements.