AUGUSTA, Maine — The fight against sexual harassment is seeing movement on Capitol Hill and at the Maine State House, including new proposals from U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and a state legislative leader.
Improper comments and actions against women began to fall under the limelight during the presidential campaign with a string of crude comments by then-candidate Donald Trump used as campaign fodder.
Since then, there have been several high-profile accusations against politicians and celebrities. Most recently, Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alabama, is under fire for alleged sexual misdeeds and former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, is seeing a critical light shined on his past.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, announced Tuesday that the House members and staff will begin mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training, a move hailed by many as a huge and positive step forward.
That came after a hearing Tuesday morning in Washington during which several female lawmakers testified about unwanted sexual comments and advances taking place at the U.S. Capitol. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, said she has seen women have their private parts grabbed on the House floor.
On Wednesday, Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District joined Speier and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, among others, to unveil a new anti-harassment bill. The Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act seeks to overhaul the complaint process with more transparency and provide better support for victims and whistleblowers. Specifically, it would create in-house support counselors for victims, allow the disclosure of information related to settlements in sexual harassment cases and would eliminate non-disclosure agreements that victims have to sign in order to proceed with their cases.
“There is absolutely no place for this in America,” Poliquin said during a Wednesday news conference. “We need to make sure that everyone who comes to work feels safe coming to work.”
Maine became the first state to mandate sexual harassment training with a 1991 law that applied to employers with 15 or more employees. In the Maine Legislature, members get that training as part of a one-day orientation every two years. Staffers get training every year.
Assistant Maine Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, said Wednesday that he’s spearheading an effort to mandate training for lawmakers every year and codify training practices in the Legislature’s Joint Rules, which he said would lead to more enforcement of the requirements.
For example, he said that he missed the sexual harassment training during last year’s orientation and was simply made to sign a piece of paper that included the sexual harassment policy. Libby said that’s not enough.
Libby said he was submitting the proposal because of wider national concerns and not because of any situation at the State House. He said the proposed rule change could be presented to the Legislative Council, a panel of legislative leaders, in December. The Legislature would have to approve changes to the rules.
“This is a very unique workplace in a lot of ways, and there’s a lot of people coming through from a lot of different backgrounds,” he said. “I think having a standard and regular form of sexual harassment awareness training and prevention training would be a good thing to have.”
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