Sexual harassment policy for lawmakers could be tightened

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Indiana legislative leaders say they expect new policies prohibiting sexual harassment by lawmakers will be in place for their upcoming session.

Proposed policies for the House and Senate were advanced Tuesday by leaders, although they said ethics committees for each chamber could tighten them up before legislators consider their adoption in January.

The draft policy expressly forbids unwanted sexual advances, but some experts say it falls short in not prohibiting what could be consensual affairs between lawmakers and employees or interns.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said the committee of four female legislators that prepared the draft only dealt with sexual harassment issues because that was the direction made in a bill adopted by lawmakers during the 2018 session.

“We already have — and probably need perhaps make them more robust — some restrictions … about relationships between a senator and an intern, for example,” Bray told reporters Tuesday. “That sort of thing, of course, is verboten.”

Indiana lawmakers haven’t been covered by a specific sexual harassment policy, although current ethics policies require them to act with “high moral and ethical standards.” The move to adopt a policy came after a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men in public office, Hollywood and the media, igniting the #MeToo movement.

Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor who studies sexual harassment policies, criticized the proposal for prohibiting ethics committee members or legislative leaders from participating in an investigation if they are the subject of the complaint — but not if they are friends with the accused harasser.

“The report is shockingly dated — very 20th century in its approach,” Drobac told The Indianapolis Star.

The policy, however, would not cover situations such as the allegations that Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill drunkenly groped a lawmaker and three legislative staffers during a party at an Indianapolis bar in March. That’s because Hill, who has denied any misconduct, is a separately elected official in the state’s executive branch.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma voted Tuesday in favor of advancing the draft policy despite facing allegations from a former legislative intern that they had a 1992 sexual fling while he was a House member. Bosma has denied the allegation and the woman’s claims that he tried to intimidate her with a campaign-funded investigation by a private attorney this year in order to keep her quiet.

Bosma said this week that he didn’t participate in developing the policy, but that some changes might be needed in response to criticism.

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