As they work on policies to combat sexual harassment, Louisiana state lawmakers are grappling with questions of what’s appropriate in a state where people regularly greet each other with hugs and kisses and where strangers often call each other “honey.”
Lawmakers on a task force reviewing compliance with a newly passed anti-harassment law and working on another round of legislation found themselves dissecting their own actions and questioning whether they need to change behavior.
“It’s certainly an eye-opening discussion for me, but I’m trying to learn. I think everybody’s trying to learn,” said Sen. Rick Ward, a Port Allen Republican, as task force members last week discussed how to define appropriate and inappropriate conduct.
Louisiana has seen two high-ranking government officials exit their jobs this term because of sexual harassment allegations. Tom Schedler resigned in May as secretary of state after being accused of sexual harassment in an employee’s lawsuit. Johnny Anderson, a former top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards, left his position in November 2017 amid claims he sexually harassed a woman in the governor’s office. Schedler and Anderson denied the allegations, which were resolved with taxpayer-financed settlements.
Amid the high-profile claims, lawmakers passed Louisiana’s first government-wide policy against sexual harassment, which took effect in January. The law requires agencies to enact policies that include a process for handling complaints, a ban against retaliation when someone files a complaint and mandatory annual prevention training.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the New Orleans Democrat whose legislation created the task force and who is chairing it, said she wants to establish “the gold standard.”
But lawmakers also acknowledged the discussions are complex. Read the full analysis from The Associated Press. And for a column from Executive Editor JR Ball on how Baton Rouge is dealing—or not dealing—with sexual harassment at the local level, click here.