On December 11th, 2017 State Rep Margo Davidson (D-PA 164) joined a group of female legislators, including State Sen Judy Schwank (D-PA 11), to announce new legislation to combat sexual harassment.
Following the lead of their counterparts in Washington, women of the PA House and Senate are coming together to introduce legislation that would protect victims of sexual harassment and abuse.
Back in November, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA 14) launched the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act or Me Too Congress Act, supported by a bipartisan group of House members. A few weeks later, 20 Senators led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-MI) introduced an almost identical bill called the Congressional Harassment Reform Act.
Speier herself is a victim of sexual harassment. In October she related her own Me Too story about being forcibly kissed by a chief of staff while she was a Congressional staffer. (Side note for the history buffs- Jackie Speier, as a young staffer, accompanied California Congressman Leo Ryan to Jonestown in 1978 to investigate human rights abuses by Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones. The team was ambushed by Jones’ followers. Congressman Ryan was killed and Speier suffered several gunshot wounds.)
Introducing the Me Too Congress Act Speier said, “In 1995, Congress created the Office of Congressional Compliance to protect itself from being exposed, and it has been remarkably successful. Twenty years later, 260 settlements and more than $15 million have permanently silenced victims of all types of workplace discrimination. Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability. Today, I am proud that my colleagues in the House and the Senate, from both sides of the aisle, are joining me to end the era of impunity for disgraceful behavior and to protect the survivors.” Speier added, “Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long. It’s rigged in favor of the institution and the members, and we can’t tolerate that.”
The bill (officially named HR 4822) is meant to address shortcomings of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act or CAA Reform Act. It was scheduled for mark up on Monday Feb 5th. HR 4822 is cosponsored by several Pennsylvania congressmen including Bob Brady (D-PA01) (who just announced he’s not running for reelection), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA08), and Ryan Costello (R-PA06).
One thing addressed by the 1995 legislation was that up until that time the legislative branch was exempt from many workplace laws that applied to the rest of the federal government. Critics say that the CAA Reform Act lacks transparency and accountability. Costello has described the current process as “confusing” and “opaque.” Costello said, “While many, if not most, Congressional offices, mine included, have policies in place regarding sexual harassment, this legislation will require annual sexual harassment training, and bring greater transparency and accountability to procedures for filing and investigating a complaint. It is appropriate for the federal government to lead on this issue. This bill is an important step forward in supporting a professional work environment, and I hope to see it signed into law.”
Here’s a look at the current process for victims on Capitol Hill:
Rep Speier points out that the current process as described above is excruciating and puts the survivor “at the bottom of the totem pole”. As the New York Times reported in the case of Pat Meehan’s former staffer, “It set her back financially and professionally, as she continued to pay legal costs associated with the complaint even after leaving her job in Mr. Meehan’s office and struggling to find a new one. She moved back in with her parents and ultimately decided to start a new life abroad.”
The new bill would change the process in a number of ways:
Reps. Speier, Costello, Brady, and Poliquin (R-ME) also introduced the bipartisan H.Res. 604 or the CEASE Resolution. It would require all members and staff of the House of Representatives to undergo annual sexual harassment prevention and response training. The Senate has already passed a similar resolution.
Much of the public uproar seems to stem from the fact that taxpayer money has been used to settle many of these harassment suits. While that outrage is understandable, the proposed legislation addresses more than that. As was mentioned earlier, the power of the Me Too movement has sparked legislative proposals not just at the federal level, but at the state level as well.
Pennsylvania Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-PA 161) has introduced the #METOO PA State House Act (Member and Employee Training and Oversight on PA General Assembly Act) that would protect the victim and the public in the event of workplace sexual harassment in the PA General Assembly. The bill, HB 1965, has co-sponsors from Berks, including Mark Gillen (R-PA 128), Mark Rozzi (D-PA 126), and yes, wait for it, Tom Caltagirone (D-PA 127). (Hypocrisy is alive and well at the State House.)
The following are included in HB 1965:
HB 1965 is not the only legislation currently being considered in Harrisburg. A bill being introduced by Rep. Maureen Madden (D-PA 115) would legally protect all employees in Pennsylvania from unwanted sexual harassment by extending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to any entity that has more than one employee. Rep. Carol Hill-Evans (D-PA 95) has introduced legislation to create a task force to examine sexual assault on college campuses. Sen. Judy Schwank (D-PA 11) is also introducing legislation that would prohibit non-disclosure agreements within contracts or secret settlements related to sexual harassment or misconduct.
The efforts above should be applauded, but the biggest takeaway of all is that (sorry boys) women are leading the charge. In his recent column, Leonard Pitts Jr. says the 80’s pop song, “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves”, has in 2018 become a prophecy -with a record number of women running for office and forming organizations to support those who wish to do so. Pitts writes, “Now women have cranked the volume to 11 and broken off the knob…this wave of women power is an inspiration larger than gender. One hopes little boys are taking note, every bit as much as little girls. Sisters are doin’ it for us all.”
posted by Amy Levengood