Sharon Fisher

The Idaho State Legislature doesn’t go into session until January 8, when Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter gives his State of the Union speech. This year, though, there may be a new item added to the agenda: Sexual harassment prevention training.

You can hardly pick up a newspaper these days without seeing a powerful person being accused of sexually harassing a less powerful, typically younger person, sometimes decades ago. And state legislatures are no exception.

n Arizona: The chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee was suspended from his post after eight women, including fellow legislators, accused him of inappropriate sexual advances.

n Illinois: A state Senator was stripped of his leadership position as majority caucus chairman after a victim’s rights advocate accused him of inappropriate and unwanted contact.

n Kentucky: The House Speaker resigned his leadership post, though he remains in office, after revelations he settled a sexual harassment claim brought by an employee.

n Ohio: A state Senator resigned after admitting to inappropriate behavior toward a state employee.

n Oregon: A state Senator was reprimanded after a colleague accused him of inappropriately touching her.

n Washington: Several legislators have been accused, including one who resigned in 2011.

In Idaho, there have been two cases of sexually-related incidents:

n In 2012, Sen. John McGee, of Caldwell, resigned after he was accused by a female aide of propositioning her. Reportedly, he was told by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill that he either had to resign or face a full ethics inquiry on the charge. He also pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace, because Idaho didn’t have a criminal sexual harassment law.

n Earlier this year, Rep. Heather Scott was stripped of her committee assignments after claiming that female lawmakers needed to “spread their legs” to get committee chairmanships.

In addition, Gov. Otter recently tweeted that he and his wife supported the #metoo movement, which had led many women on Twitter reporting their experiences with sexual harassment with the hashtag #metoo. He did this because the National Organization for Women asked him to after several recent lawsuits against state agencies alleging sexual harassment against employees:

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n A former Department of Fish and Game employee alleging in a sexual discrimination lawsuit that a male supervisor threatened to strangle her with an extension cord.

n A former employee at the State Controller’s Office said she was sexually and racially harassed by a supervisor.

n The state recently settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was coerced into sex with a detective investigating her in a federal drug case.

n Several state legislatures have taken steps to help reduce sexual harassment of staffers and legislators.

n California: The state Senate hired outside investigators to look into complaints of widespread harassment.

n Iowa: Creating a human resources manager position to oversee Statehouse harassment complaints, six weeks after the state paid a $1.75 million settlement with a former Senate staffer who reported sexual harassment at work.

n Kansas: Improving its sexual harassment policy after several accusations.

n Massachusetts: the House speaker ordered a review of the Legislature’s sexual harassment policies after claims of sexual misconduct by legislators or staff.

n Rhode Island: the House speaker said there will be sexual harassment training for the legislature, after a lawmaker accused another of seeking sexual favors in exchange for bills to advance.

In Idaho, Gov. Otter reportedly told the state’s Division of Human Resources to increase public employee training about sexual harassment, discrimination and employee retaliation, and that training was given to employees in the controller’s office on October 3.

While Idaho legislative leadership hasn’t said anything about instituting sexual harassment prevention training, legislators have had ethics training every two years since 2013.

 

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