A Republican and a DFL state lawmaker proposed changes to House rules Monday that would allow lobbyists, staff, members of the executive branch and the public to make discrimination and harassment complaints to the House Ethics Committee.
Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, also proposed an expedited investigative process that allows confidentiality for accusers.
O'Neill emphasized the importance of protecting due process rights of the accused.
"The last thing I want to see is a false accusation of sexual harassment becoming a political weapon," O'Neill, a third-term Republican, said in a statement.
The proposed rule changes — which would need support of the Republican majority to take effect when the legislative session begins in February — arrive in the face of a sexual harassment scandal at the Legislature that has thus far cost two lawmakers their jobs.
Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, announced his resignation effective Dec. 15 after a lawmaker, a DFL candidate for office and a legislative aide all accused him of improper behavior, which he denied but said made his continued service impossible. At least three of Schoen's alleged offenses occurred while he was in the House, where he served for two terms after being elected in 2012.
Former Rep. Tony Cornish, a Republican from Vernon Center, also recently resigned. He apologized to a lobbyist after propositioning her for sex dozens of times over the years while she tried to lobby him on criminal justice issues that he oversaw as chairman of a key committee.
Capitol lobbyists say they are especially vulnerable to harassment and discrimination because they fear retribution against their clients if they bring their concerns.
The allegations of misconduct in St. Paul are just the local manifestation of a nationwide movement calling attention to sexual harassment and assault in workplaces from Hollywood to Washington, D.C., where Sen. Al Franken recently announced his intention to resign.
Under the Lesch/O'Neill plan, a person could lodge a complaint anonymously, but would be under oath. Leadership would deliver the complaint to the lawmaker in question, but it would remain nonpublic until the Ethics Committee determines probable cause exists.
The proposal sets up a relatively rapid timeline, requiring a ruling no more than 90 days after the complaint.