Michigan House’s bipartisan bill would make public sexual harassment regulations involving lawmakers

Biparty legislation that would make public the names of state lawmakers involved in the sexual harassment settlement agreements was introduced in the Michigan House this week.

House bill 4920, sponsored by Republican Wayland Steve Johnson and Democrat Hamtramck Abraham Aiyash, reportedly demand that State House and the Senate make available upon request the amount paid in a sexual harassment claim and the name of the lawmaker involved, unless the court orders otherwise.

Related: Few will trust the sexual discrimination and harassment policies of the Michigan legislature. Can this be fixed?

The legislation only applies to claims for which a financial settlement has been reached, Johnson said. He said he had been interested in the matter since hearing incidents in which members of Congress, including former Michigan US Representative John Conyers, reached secret settlement deals after being charged sexual harassment.

Both lawmakers said they believed the issue was a matter of good government and transparency for public servants – if taxpayer dollars are spent to resolve legitimate sexual harassment complaints against a lawmaker, this information should be clear. public notoriety.

“I think that’s a deterrent,” Johnson said. “If you know you can get away with it – and it’s not even your own money, but it’s taxpayer money that’s going to be used to settle a claim – where is the incentive, other than just knowing? that it is morally wrong? Where is the incentive not to do this? “

“When you know your name is going to be published and everyone will know it, I hope that’s a pretty good deterrent,” he continued. “Anything we can do to encourage behavior that isn’t bad like this, I think it’s a good idea. And if that happens, the public is notified.

The House and Senate both have anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in place, and complaints against lawmakers or legislative staff are handled by the House and Senate business offices. But since lawmakers are elected and not hired, they cannot be fired even if they are found to violate these policies. The only way to expel them is if fellow lawmakers vote to expel them or if they are recalled by voters. Both are rare occurrences.

Many current and former legislative staff told MLive in April that they did not believe the policies in place were doing much to protect base employees, expressing fears that coming forward could or would have had an impact. negative impact on their career. These fears, coupled with a lack of confidence that the process would result in positive resolutions, contribute to high staff turnover and a toxic workplace culture, sources said.

Related: Butt clamps, threesome demands and glass ceiling: sexism is systemic in Michigan political culture

Taxpayers have footed the bill for sexual harassment investigations and settlements in the past, according to financial information previously released by the House of Commons and the Senate.

Between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2006, the Senate spent $ 269,000 to investigate and resolve complaints of sexual harassment, although the chamber refused to name those involved. In 2015, the House spent $ 97,573 to investigate and resolve a sexual harassment charge against former Rep Brian Banks, D-Detroit.

Aiyash said the public deserved to know if and when sexual harassment claims against a given lawmaker lead to payment and said the information should be readily available, especially in the event that someone at the center of a complaint legitimate sexual harassment arises again.

“It’s no secret that there have been cases of sexual harassment settlement in State House, Senate and Congress,” Aiyash said. “And if it’s not disclosed, I think it is like silencing the money.”

The bill has been referred to the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Johnson, for further consideration. Johnson said he hoped the legislation can be incorporated into the House’s ongoing efforts to pass changes to government transparency and ethics laws in Michigan.

Over a two-week period in April, MLive interviewed 40 women who work or have worked in the state’s political arena and found that 32 had been sexually harassed.

Only seven chose to officially report the harassment. Many respondents who did not file a formal complaint raised concerns about the impact on their careers or a lack of confidence that the reports would address the issue as factors in their decision. But 93% of respondents said they communicated their concerns about another person’s conduct informally to friends or colleagues.

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