Lawmakers have agreed on moving one bill forward to address sexual harassment in state government. As it stands now, Louisiana doesn’t have a standard sexual harassment policy on the books.
“We need policies in place where people feel comfortable reporting harassment, there’s a clear understanding of what is and isn’t harassment, and they’re confident that we’re going to investigate and take action," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell).
Multiple bills were filed this session, attempting to set that standard — including one from Sen. Hewitt. But lawmakers wanted one comprehensive sexual harassment bill, rather than several that overlap. On Wednesday, a compromise was struck in a Senate committee to advance a bill from Rep. Barbara Carpenter (D-Baton Rouge). That bill has already gotten full approval from the House.
“Representative Carpenter’s bill takes a step forward in that it does mandate that everyone have training, which we don’t currently have now," said Sen. Hewitt.
The bill also directs agencies to develop sexual harassment policies, but they don’t necessarily have to be the same. Hewitt says that’s where Carpenter’s bill could be strengthened as it moves through the legislative process.
This agreement came just one day after the Legislative Auditor released a report revealing the state has spent $5 million on sexual harassment lawsuits since 2009. And between 2013 and 2017, there were over 300 claims of sexual harassment in executive branch agencies.
“That’s a large number and those, again, are only the ones that were reported," Hewitt said.
According to the report, which was based on a survey of 30,000 state employees, nearly 80 percent of the respondents say they’ve experienced sexual harassment, but never reported it.