Late last year, the national media inundated America with reports of sexual misconduct. Hollywood in particular was replete with such stories. But politics wasn’t immune either. Whether it was 40-year old allegations surrounding Alabama’s U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore or sitting U.S. Senator Al Franken (D – MN), the topic couldn’t be ignored– not even in North Dakota.
We first wrote about this issue as a result of comments that Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman (D – District 23) made to The Forum’s John Hageman. According to Hageman, the New Rockford Democrat said it wouldn’t be hard to find instances of harassment at the State Capitol. Yet, in spite of her claim, she refused to elaborate.
We followed that first article up with another one in December of last year, after the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee met to review harassment policies. In the aftermath of that meeting, State Representative Kathy Hogan (D – District 21) made the following claim:
“We see the behavior so frequently we’ve almost gotten to the point of accepting it.”
And while these are serious claims by two of North Dakota’s legislators, it was alleged by one source, to The Minuteman, that Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R – District 37) was unaware of such a rampant problem at the State Capitol.
As part of the committee’s review, they have developed a proposal called the “North Dakota Legislative Assembly Policy Against Workplace Harassment“. What was once just a two paragraph policy has now been updated to three pages– with additional modifications to come. The framework is pretty standard– as you can see on the National Conference of State Legislatures web site.
According to the proposal, the new policy will apply to “legislators, legislative employees, and third parties”. Third parties will include the “media, a lobbyist, and any other individual involved in the legislative process”.
The current proposal actually goes beyond sexual harassment. It also includes:
“… harassment based on disability, race, creed, color, religion, age, national origin, military status, genetic information, or ancestry, including verbal or physical behavior or conduct, which denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of that individual’s disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, military status, genetic information, or ancestry or which has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
With such a policy in place- and the reporting and investigation procedures to support it – I’m guessing that the work environment at the Capitol may be different than it has been in the past. I would imagine that what some thought was just silly humor before may now qualify as harassment under the new policy.
The “Evidentiary Standard” requiring disciplinary action is as follows:
“Disciplinary action must be taken if the evidence, when viewed from the perspective of a reasonable individual with the same disability, or of the same race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, military status, genetic information, or ancestry as the complainant, supports the claim of the complainant.”
According to the current draft, any record resulting from a complaint or investigation will qualify as an “exempt record” under North Dakota law– at least until the investigation is complete. Investigations must be completed “no longer than 75 calendar days from the date the complaint was made”.
While I’m admittedly not familiar with standards in regards to these types of investigations, I cannot help but question the 75 day rule. Why so long? I understand the necessity to conduct thorough investigations, but this seems extensive to me. In fact, I’m not so sure that such a rule wouldn’t hurt an investigation rather than help it. As a matter of comparison, Maryland’s policy has a 45 day rule and Oregon’s is 60 days.
One of the criticisms of the current two paragraph policy is that it’s too simplistic in saying that harassment “won’t be tolerated”. Yet, the current proposal concludes with this wording for a “False Complaint”:
“Any complaint of workplace harassment found to be intentionally or recklessly dishonest or malicious will not be tolerated.” (Emphasis Added)
Really? Such a statement wasn’t good enough for the original policy, but it’s fine for those who make false complaints under the new one? I would hope not. Left as it is, this would be nothing short of hypocrisy. After all, aren’t false accusations a form of harassment? I think so.
In addition to updating the policy, we have House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R – District 41) expressing support for mandatory harassment training. And maybe he’s right, but isn’t it sad that we’re at a place where those whom we elect in North Dakota must be taught what harassment is?
Such training isn’t uncommon anymore though. The South Dakota Legislature held sexual harassment training as recently as January– though their’s wasn’t mandatory.
It’s obvious that there’s still work to do on the proposal before the committee meets again in June. Even after its completion, North Dakota’s lawmakers should take the necessary steps next Legislative Session to ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for any settlements that could result from proven cases of harassment. Those guilty of such behavior should pay the price, not us.