Sexual harassment in the workplace has received a great deal of attention in recent years, including in the halls of the Kentucky legislature. Yet, even with the events that are fresh in our memory, it may surprise you to learn that the ethics code for the legislature does not address sexual harassment.
Rep. Kelly Flood intends to change that. She has pre-filed a bill (BR 179) that makes it ethical misconduct for a legislator, legislative agent, or employee of the legislative branch to engage in sexual harassment. It also sets in place definitions for sexual harassment and for what constitutes a complaint of sexual harassment.
But most importantly, it moves the responsibility for dealing with complaints from the director of the Legislative Research Commission, where it now resides, and transfers it to the non-partisan Legislative Ethics Commission.
As Rep. Flood noted when we spoke with her, “My main reason for moving this to the Ethics Commission is to make sure the legislators, especially, are not policing ourselves. And, that we have a timely and fair process that’s equal for everybody. The Ethics Commission has a strong, public record of this kind of oversight, especially for the legislature.”
She noted that the LRC employees have official human resource manuals, but the development of those manuals and the processes they outline is a fairly recent phenomenon. Unfortunately, some of the persons who had put those manuals and processes in place are no longer there, and the HR work is primarily done through the director’s office, which is currently held by an interim director.
Rep. Flood has not lined up co-sponsors yet, saying that she wants to do that via face-to-face meetings with other legislators once the General Assembly gathers in January. When asked if she thinks the bill has a chance of passing, or its purpose is primarily to make a point, she said that both objectives are true. She definitely wants to make the point that the problem of sexual harassment must be addressed, and she hopes that other legislators will agree with her and are ready to deal with this issue.
Here are some of the main points of the bill:
- Create new sections of KRS 6.601 to 6.849 to make it ethical misconduct for a legislator, legislative agent, or employee of the legislative branch to engage in sexual harassment
- Define “sexual harassment” and “complaint”
- Grant the Legislative Ethics Commission jurisdiction to investigate and proceed upon receipt of a complaint from a legislator, legislative agent, or employee of the legislative branch regarding sexual harassment allegedly committed by a legislator, legislative agent, or employee of the legislative branch
- Require the Legislative Ethics Commission to establish a legislative ethics telephone tip line, and make it available 24 hours a day
- Require the publication of the existence of the legislative ethics telephone tip line
- Require that within 24 hours of the receipt of a complaint the Legislative Ethics Commission executive director make an initial determination as to whether a complaint meets the criteria for consideration and notify the complainant of the determination. (Other deadlines are also listed in the bill.)