The Minnesota Senate has agreed to beef up training and reporting requirements to combat sexual harassment by lawmakers and their staffs, more than 16 months after a series of misconduct allegations rocked the State Capitol.
The new policy, adopted unanimously Monday by the chamber’s rules committee, outlines enhanced new procedures for handling internal investigations of discrimination and sexual harassment.
Changes include more frequent training for lawmakers and staff and updates aimed at streamlining the process for investigating complaints. The new language also expands protections for people who interact with lawmakers or staff but do not work for the Legislature, including lobbyists and constituents.
The Senate’s overhaul comes after more than a year of review of policies that have been in place since 1990, long before a national wave of sexual harassment allegations that shook up the world of business, media and politics.
The controversy sparked a national #metoo movement that brought to light alleged sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in prominent positions, including producer Harvey Weinstein, NBC Today show anchor Matt Lauer and former U.S. Sen. Al Franken. All three lost their jobs.
In the Minnesota Capitol, a number of high-profile sexual harassment allegations in 2017 prompted calls to update and clarify the rules. Two state lawmakers resigned in the wake of those claims: former Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and former Sen. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul, Park. Schoen denied wrongdoing and Cornish apologized. The Minnesota House approved its own harassment policy updates in April 2018.
The new Senate policy was drafted by a working group made up of lawmakers and nonpartisan legislative staff. State Sen. Michelle Benson, who chaired the task force, said the goal was to use a bipartisan and transparent process to produce an “evenhanded” policy.
“It’s not a majority-minority issue,” the Ham Lake Republican said. “This is about how we treat people in the Minnesota Senate and the environment we work in here.”
In addition to the procedural changes, the policy requires the Senate to release an annual report detailing the number of complaints filed and substantiated, as well as the number of investigations completed and any costs incurred in the process. Benson said members sought to balance the personal sensitivities involved in sexual harassment complaints with a need for transparency.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the long process reflected a desire to involve all parties. “I know it wasn’t easy and took a lot longer than we thought,” he said, “but I believe we have unanimous support.”