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home : most recent : statewide implications December 11, 2018

4/13/2018 6:05:00 PM
Indiana legislators institute new workplace policy

Scott L. Miley, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — When State Rep. Cherrish Pryor joined the Indiana General Assembly staff as an intern in 1995, she walked around the offices to meet legislators.

One of them, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, told her that if she ever felt uncomfortable with a staffer's actions, such as sexual harassment, she should report the incident.

At the time, there was no harassment policy in place mandating training for either staffers or legislators.

"I've never had an issue but I did think that it was necessary for legislators to know and understand the importance of sexual harassment," said Pryor, a Democrat representing a House district in Indianapolis.

Twenty-three years later, she led a drive to require sexual harassment training each year for legislators. Training is now required for legislative staffers but not elected legislators.

A bill requiring an hour of training for legislators and setting up a committee to develop policy was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb. The committee, comprised of the four General Assembly party leaders, who are all men, and four appointees, likely to be women, is to set by mid-November a policy outlining sexual harassment.

Following the bill's signing, Holcomb outlined changes to the state’s executive branch harassment prevention policies. Changes include training workshops for state agency heads focusing on workplace harassment as well as training for managers and supervisors at all levels under development by the Indiana State Personnel Department and to launch this summer.

On the same day, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush said a stronger Judicial Branch policy would focus on civility.

Rush said, “Past sexual harassment trainings often focused on what behavior was illegal. By emphasizing whether the offensive behavior was illegal, employers appeared to condone harassing behavior if it did not expose them to liability."

Pryor's measure solely for legislator training started as an amendment to a bill aimed at requiring training for certain county officials.

The original House Bill 1309, authored by Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, would have mandated training for county auditors, recorders, treasurers, surveyors and clerks. It had the blessing of the Association of Indiana Counties.

Engleman had been the Harrison County auditor when a government worker in another department was investigated for sexual harassment. As a result, all county workers underwent training.

"Honestly, you don't expect it when it happens, so that's why I thought about addressing this before it happens and having some things in place and letting everybody know what's acceptable and what's not," she said. "That way you don't run the risk of doing something that would found to be unacceptable."

Her bill, with Pryor's amendment, passed the House with no opposition.

As it moved through the Legislature, Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, suggested the legislator training aspect become a standalone bill. The county provisions were moved to House Bill 1104, which didn't pass by the March 14 end of the session but may resurface during the yet-to-be-set special session in May.

Engleman, however, is pleased with the end result of her bill. 

"I think 1309 is great. I was all for it. I didn't think of it myself but Rep. Pryor came to me and it seemed like a good idea," she said, adding, "Honestly I have never seen anybody act out of line so that's why I never thought of it. Everybody acts professional when I see them."

Also in the Senate, State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, led efforts to amend the measure further to set up a committee to set policy for legislators.

"We already had a policy that did apply to our staff, but we needed to make sure we had something that covered members as well," Lanane said. "Certainly in light of the situations that arisen in other parts of the country, it was wise for us to take a look at what we were doing and we simply didn't have that policy."

He has pledged to name a woman as his appointee to the eight-member committee.

"Awareness is crucial to this whole situation," Lanane said. "People may think they know what sexual harassment is, but we don't. That's something that needs to be emphasized in training and the whole idea of what is sexual harassment needs to be clearly explored."

Legislators are currently unsure of the transparency of the process including whether Hoosiers will learn of investigations and resulting disciplinary actions.

"We do have to sort of balance confidentiality issues involved in all this in terms of complainants," Lanane said. "So there's some heavy lifting I would say that probably needs to be done between now and November when we have to come up with policy."

He added, "There has to be sensitivity to the parties involved here, too. Those will some of the more thorny issues we have to work our way through."

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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