PHOTO BY TRYFON BOUKOUVIDIS/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, responding to questions at a Senate hearing on her bill that would fortify sexual harassment policies across the state
Louisiana senators agreed Wednesday to cooperate on a comprehensive compromise bill that would fortify Louisiana’s policies against sexual harassment in state agencies.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee sent the bill to the Senate floor to be considered next week after senators negotiate changes in the language.
The bill would provide uniformity in sexual harassment policy across the state. It would shield sexual harassment victims from employer retaliation and provide training to public servants.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who sponsored one of the proposals, said sexual harassment is both a national and a state issue. She referred to recent high-profile cases involving a former aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards and the secretary of state, Tom Schedler.
“I think that it is very timely that we are working on this issue in the State Legislature as are many states around the country,” she said.
Hewitt based her proposal on the audit, which she requested from the legislative auditor to determine the magnitude of the sexual harassment problem. The audit concluded that Louisiana does not have a uniform harassment policy for state agencies.
It also showed that the state has spent more than $5 million on 84 lawsuits over sexual harassment claims since 2009. On top of that, there were 311 internal complaints of sexual harassment in the executive branch from 2013 to 2017.
“I find that to be a very significant number in a 5-year period,” Hewitt argued.
Gina Brown, a legislative audit manager, said her office had asked all the executive agencies to verify the number of sexual harassment complaints.
Correction: The initial version of this story stated that Secretary of State Tom Schedler's office had not verified for state auditors the number of sexual harassment complaints it had received internally, based on an initial Legislative Auditor's report. That report was in error, and a revised version was issued later stating that the Secretary of State's office had provided the information in a timely manner.