The Daily Item Editorial: Take immediate action on #MeToo bills

The Daily Item
August 29, 2018

“It is time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to follow the lead of other states and schedule votes on common sense legislation to reform sexual harassment issues within state government.

“Pennsylvania has yet to pass any reforms in the wake of the public backlash over revelations of sexual misconduct and the use of public money to settle claims by employees against lawmakers.

“This past June, state lawmakers did commission a study to examine the prevalence of sexual harassment in state government, including the legislative, judicial and executive branches and within state agencies. Results may not be released for another 10 months. The Joint State Government Committee has until next June to release its findings.

“While Pennsylvania legislators wait for more information, lawmakers in six states — Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, New York and South Carolina — have taken actions to ban the use of public funds in sexual harassment settlements involving lawmakers.

“Kansas and New York, joined by the state of Washington, also banned the use of confidential settlements to resolve sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers in both of their legislative chambers. South Carolina shored up its laws by banning confidential settlements in the state Senate, matching an existing prohibition in the state House.

“The Associated Press reports that since January 2017, at least 30 state lawmakers across the nation have resigned or have been expelled from office following allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, including 24 who left since early in October 2017 as the national movement against sexual harassment and assault gained momentum.

“That group of lawmakers did not include any from Pennsylvania, but it has been revealed that $248,000 in taxpayer money was used to settle a 2015 sexual harassment case involving a state representative.

“The Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry committee has called a hearing for Sept. 6 to review proposed legislation, including House Bill 1965, which would bar the state from making non-disclosure settlements on behalf of lawmakers and bar the use of public funds to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials. Other bills include a measure that would provide sexual harassment protection for all state-employed workers and another that would extend the protections to college interns working in state government.

“‘There is no good reason for the Legislature to not take immediate action on at least seven bills that have been reviewed, endorsed and deemed absolutely necessary,’ said Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney for the Women’s Law Project based in Philadelphia.

“We agree. It’s simply not necessary to invest more time digging for statistics to illustrate a problem when that time could be used enacting fundamental employment protections for the people who go to work every day for the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

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