Capitol Views: Bill to make sexual harassers pay up clears committee

    A Senate committee approved legislation today that would allow the state, on a case-by-case basis, to seek the reimbursement of taxpayer dollars from public sector employees or officials involved in sexual harassment judgments or settlements. The office in the Division of Administration that manages the state’s property and liability exposure would be charged with making those assessments, which the attorney general or other entity could then use to pursue reimbursement.

    SB 182 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, originally sought to pave a new lane for the attorney general to file a civil suit in such cases. But since some accused harassers may not have the ability to pay, and due to the state’s unpredictable liabilities regarding this matter and the importance of victims being family compensated, Hewitt amended her bill to have the Office of Risk Management weigh the value of recoupment.

    She said she brought the legislation because too many of her constituents were asking the same question about recent sexual harassment suits brought against state employees and officials: “Why weren’t the accused held more accountable for their actions?”

    According to the Office of Risk Management, the state paid $1.6 million in damages for sexual harassment claims between 2009 and 2018, and an additional $2.5 million was shelled out for attorney fees and litigation costs. Based on these figures, an estimate calculated by the Legislative Fiscal Office predicted that the state could recoup as much as $410,000 annually from similar cases in the future under Hewitt’s proposal before it was amended.

    Members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee asked pointed questions about the changes to the bill while being supportive of the concept overall. “If you don’t create a scenario where the state has skin in the game to pursue claims of sexual harassment and to prevent sexual harassment,” said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, trailing off. “Look, I’m always worried if the state has rip cord to get out of the way, then it won’t pursue this.”

    Hewitt said she intends to work on further amendments before the legislation its heard next by the full Senate.

    Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon in Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session.  

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