Senate and House pass four sexual harassment prevention measures (AUDIO)

 cap fall

The Illinois Senate approved legislation to ensure sexual harassment policies apply to lawmakers and staff, establish workplace training and discipline standards for lobbyists and give a newly hired inspector general more time to investigate pending ethics complaints.

Senate President John Cullerton called it a beginning.

“We addressed problems and issues that should have been tackled a long time ago,” he said. “I look forward to the task force recommendations on the next steps we need to take and offer my support for them.”

In all, four measures were passed to address lapses in current policy regarding sexual harassment in the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 402 amends the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and the Lobbyist Registration Act to prohibit sexual harassment. It clarifies the procedure for making complaints and allowing the ethics commission to adjudicate claims and impose penalties. It requires harassment prevention training for lawmakers, staff and lobbyists.

The measure also creates a sexual harassment hotline for people to call to file complaints and begin the process of investigation through the inspector general.

House Bill 137 extends the statute of limitations on sexual harassment complaints that are already pending to give the inspector general time to investigate them and determine penalties or other actions.

Underlying the package of legislation is a culture that allows sexual discrimination and harassment in the Capitol environment with few if any consequences. Both chambers of the General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution 83 condemning these actions and setting a path to ensure prevention, investigation and recourse.

“A few weeks ago, more than 300 women and men took a stand and demanded a change in the culture of sexual harassment in Springfield,” said Chicago Heights Senator Toi Hutchinson, the sponsor of the resolution. “Today marks an important first step in addressing these serious concerns had by those who signed that letter, along with countless others who have heard, seen or been a victim of sexual harassment.”

Senate Resolution 1076 sponsored by Senator Melinda Bush of Grayslake creates the Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment to conduct a comprehensive review of sexual discrimination in both the public and private sectors. Its charge is to study and recommend changes to combat harassment in workplaces, educational institutions, and state and local government.

The resolution takes effect immediately. Within 10 days members will be appointed; the first task force meeting will occur in December.

“The (task force) will allow a diverse group of individuals to take a deeper look the problem and come up with meaningful reforms to really make a difference going forward,” Bush said.

Other Senate Democrats offered their responses to the developments
in the Legislature:

Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (Maywood): “We
have only begun to address the issue of sexual harassment.
Legislative measures are not going to be the solution to this
problem, and they will certainly never make up for the hurt and
fear women have endured for many years. It is going to take a
cultural change to truly see a difference. The important thing is
that more and more people are becoming aware and are determined to find solutions.”

Senator Heather Steans (Chicago): “While I think this legislation is a start, I am concerned that it sets up a reporting system that is overseen or hired by legislators, which may perpetuate an unsafe work environment where people are afraid to come forward. In the coming weeks, I think we need to examine best practices and what other states have done to determine if a special ombudsman position should be created to handle sexual harassment complaints. I intend to actively participate in trailer legislation to address this issue.”

Senator Terry Link (Vernon Hills): “While the measures voted on today are a step in the right direction to address the issue of sexual harassment and discrimination in Illinois, it's important that we continue the conversation and recognize that more needs to be done to change the culture and eliminate sexual harassment for good.”

Senator Andy Manar (Bunker Hill): “The legislation passed today is a long-overdue step toward correcting a culture in state government that has failed to evolve with the times. Clearly, there is more work to do. In the end, zero tolerance is the only acceptable response to sexual harassment.”

Senator Mattie Hunter (Chicago): “I strongly believe that as a legislative body we need to ensure there is a safe process for individuals to report sexual harassment. Sexual harassment should not be tolerated under any circumstance. Reported claims should not be swept under the rug and harassers should, absolutely, be held accountable for their actions. I think this legislation is a step in the right direction and I look forward to seeing what the taskforce presents moving forward.”

Senator Laura Murphy (Des Plaines): “The issue of sexual harassment in Illinois politics is serious and requires careful consideration. That’s why I urged the leaders to slow the process down so that we could hold hearings and holistically address the issue. I look forward to working with my colleagues on additional legislation to address this issue.”