About 18 months ago, Minnesota politics experienced convulsive change after former Sen. Al Franken and two state lawmakers were accused of various types and degrees of sexual harassment. All three resigned.

The events came in the wake of the national MeToo movement but stunned some Minnesotans who believed — however naively — that that kind of behavior didn’t happen here.

Last week the state Senate took another step to reform the workplace.

As my colleague Torey Van Oot reported, sexual harassment complaints received by supervisors or senators must now be shared with the Department of Human Resources at the Legislature. It also explicitly states that all complaints will be investigated.

The Senate will now conduct harassment training every two years instead of every five, which had been the policy and made no sense considering the frequent turnover.

The Legislature is an unusual work environment because no one is the boss of the lawmakers, other than the voters. And the Capitol is home to thousands of people who go there to press their government for change but are not employed by Minnesota state government or the Legislature.

Recognizing this, the Senate changed its policy to cover “third parties” who interact with legislators and staff but don’t work for the Legislature. Lobbyists, vendors, visitors, constituents, members of the media and state employees who have business with the Senate are all included in that section. Unpaid interns are also protected.

When an alleged harasser is a state senator, the leader of that member’s caucus must consult with the other caucus leader on whatever disciplinary action is recommended and let the other leader know when that action has been taken, which should prevent burying misconduct under partisan rugs.

State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chaired the working group on the new policy, told Van Oot, “As new people come into the workforce, as we have more clear discussions about the way we treat each other at work, I think we’re going to see continual improvement.”

The workplace environment remains problematic on political and social justice campaigns as well, according to an open letter released recently by a group of progressive activists.

The letter called for an end to “patterns of toxic and abusive/violent behavior observed regularly” in progressive political and social justice circles.

The letter writers say they have witnessed “anti-blackness,” misogyny, physical violence, manipulation, intimidation, gaslighting and rumor spreading.

The letter also says the signatories (nearly 100 of them) “will form a structure … dedicated to transforming culture and building brave and trusting movement spaces.”

Sounds like it’s long past due.


J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican patrick.coolican@startribune.com