House Votes For Pair Of Workplace Sexual Misconduct Studies

Jun 19, 2018

 State lawmakers voted Monday to commission a pair of studies about sexual misconduct in the workplace, including in state government, although critics said they would prefer to take more direct action to address the problem.

The state House overwhelmingly approved giving a task force a year to report on workplace harassment and sexual misconduct and to have the Joint State Government Commission issue a similar study about conditions across state government.

Some who voted against the resolutions said they would prefer action on bills that are awaiting committee votes rather than wait for the results of studies.

"You don't need a task force to come back 13 months from now to tell you what you already know," said Rep. John Galloway, D-Bucks.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, who sponsored both resolutions, said she wanted to "lay the groundwork for facts."

"Many, many times, people have taken action quickly just to say they did something without having the facts to back it up," Delozier said.

House Republicans said a similar resolution pending in the state Senate was needed to put in place the Task Force on Harassment and Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace.

One of the House-passed measures would set up the task force to review laws, regulations and policies, recommend how to improve reporting of misconduct, and issue a report by the end of May.

The other study would draw together information on the "prevalence and outcomes" of sexual misconduct and harassment complaints in all three branches of state government. The commission would report how many complaints were fielded over the past five years, including cases of discipline, cash settlements or referrals to law enforcement.

"I'm a mother, I'm a sister, I'm a wife, and the fact that we're just going to do another study of this issue is frankly embarrassing," said Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks.

Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said legislative studies often have stood in the way of passing bills, as members will wait until the study results are in before acting. He said he was voting for the resolutions, but planned in the coming months to keep pressure on to consider proposals that already were introduced.

Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, said she voted for the resolutions as a "good faith gesture," but wants more tangible action.

"The reality right now is that we do not have a process to address complaints in the state Capitol that is transparent or fair for victims," she said.

Krueger-Braneky wants the House to pass her bill, which would ban non-disclosure agreements that hide the names of lawmakers who harass and prohibit members of the General Assembly from using taxpayer funds to pay settlements to victims.

The state House has disclosed that it reached two sexual misconduct settlements involving members in recent years, totaling $280,000. One House member was accused of violent and threatening behavior toward two women, including by a fellow state representative, claims that he has strongly denied. A county prosecutor is investigating.

The Wolf administration has disclosed that more than 30 lawsuits over the past decade have made claims ranging from rape and other kinds of assault to sexual harassment and stalking. The state has paid or agreed to pay more than $3 million to settle those claims.

90.5 WESA's Kathleen J. Davis contributed to this report.