Top Republican and Democratic lawmakers voted Tuesday afternoon to recommend the General Assembly adopt a new sexual harassment policy when it convenes next year.
The Legislative Council unanimously approved the guidelines proposed by its personnel subcommittee to combat sexual harassment at the Indiana Statehouse, but the policy will still undergo review by the ethics committees in the House and Senate and require approval from both chambers.
“It may not be the end all be all,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said. “We’ll be back here in January to take a further look at what this policy should be.”
But the vote signifies the policy has at least initial support from leaders at the Statehouse. The council includes House Speaker Brian Bosma, Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta and Lanane.
The policy would allow the ethics committee to hear sexual harassment and retaliation complaints from anyone alleging misconduct by a lawmaker. Complaints would be provided to the Speaker of the House or the Senate President Pro Tempore.
If the complaint involves either elected leader, then the majority caucus chair of the chamber would receive it. The policy would prohibit the subject of the complaint from being involved in the review process.
Sexual harassment would be defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
The policy also calls for one hour of sexual harassment training for lawmakers every two years.
“I think it’s a pretty comprehensive policy, and it’s a really good start, but there still might be some small things that the ethics committees look at and review,” Bray said.
The personnel subcommittee of the Legislative Council was directed by the General Assembly in the last session to prepare and recommend a sexual harassment policy for lawmakers.
The subcommittee usually consists of the two top leaders from each chamber, but those lawmakers each appointed different lawmakers to temporarily serve on the body to craft the policy. The appointed legislators included Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville; Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis; Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne; and Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage.
Legislative staffers currently have sexual harassment guidelines they must follow, but state lawmakers do not have a specific set of rules.
The issue of sexual harassment in state government has intensified this year, as four women accused Attorney General Curtis Hill of inappropriately touching them at a party after the end of the last session, and Bosma has been accused of trying to intimidate a former intern from coming forward about an alleged consensual sexual encounter she says the two had in the 1990s.
Hill and Bosma have denied the allegations.
Bosma said he did not attend any of the subcommittee meetings to avoid any potential conflicts given the accusations made against him.
The policy would still not apply to Hill, who is elected to a separate office, or other outside parties harassing legislators and legislative staff.
“There are some challenges there and that's something we’re trying to work through,” Bray said.