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House task force hears results of sexual harassment survey

Rep. Debra Kiel, chair of the House Task Force on Workplace Safety and Respect, comments during a Dec. 14 presentation of survey findings regarding harassment and discrimination at the House. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Harassment has happened at the House, but changes aimed at helping to stop such instances are being implemented.

That was the message shared Friday with the House Task Force on Workplace Safety and Respect.

A Nov. 30 report showed that 20.4 percent of House employee respondents and 19.7 percent of responding members stated they had either experienced or witnessed something that could be described as sexually harassing behavior in the workplace. Roughly a quarter of each group indicated the behavior took place at “off premises-events,” with “legislators’ offices” being the second-most frequent place of infraction (18.8 percent of employees; 16.7 percent of members).

Sixty-six of 132 members responded to the October survey (two members resigned before the survey was conducted) as did 163 of 225 employees. Per the report, “The surveys were anonymous, and each question was optional. Members and staff received separate surveys to facilitate sorting responses, but the questions were the same. The only identifying information the survey yielded is whether the respondent is a member or employee, and gender.”

All members and 98.8 percent of House employees indicated they are familiar with House policies against discrimination and/or harassment, according to the report.

[WATCH: Full video of the hearing on YouTube]

“We want the House to be a safe and respectful place for all of us,” said Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston), the task force chair.

That doesn’t mean incidents have not happened.

Former Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) resigned in November 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment. Former Sen. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park) resigned a couple weeks later after he too was accused of sexual harassment, including the sharing of inappropriate pictures.

An April 25 resolution by the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee created the task force and directed it to work with the House Human Resources and Research Departments to develop recommendations to strengthen the House’s discrimination and harassment policy.

Since then, the House has taken the following steps:

  • established a dedicated phone number (651-296-9896) and email address (dh@house.mn) for “anyone who wants to make a report or complaint, or voice a concern about harassment or discrimination under the House policy”;
  • created a public webpage dedicated to harassment and discrimination that includes links to the House anti-harassment and discrimination policy, and whom to contact regarding potential misdeeds; and
  • a sign containing information similar to the webpage that will be posted in House spaces before the beginning of the 2019 session.

House members spent a full day taking sexual harassment training last session and will be required to attend a similar event next month. House staff receive training when first hired and then every five years. Supervisors receive more extensive training.

The report also recommends additional member training in implicit bias or bystander training and that House policy be amended “to clarify whether physical conduct, such as kissing, or touching, constitutes sexual harassment without regard to whether the conduct is unwelcome.”

“I’d expect we’ll be having more conversations about this in the future,” Kiel said.


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