Legislative Council to consider sexual harassment working group

Alaska State Capitol in February. The Legislative Council is scheduled to discuss forming a sexual harassment policy working group on Tuesday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Alaska Legislative Council is scheduled to discuss forming a sexual harassment policy working group Tuesday.

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Lawmakers are considering how to revise the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy to ensure that harassment reports are handled appropriately.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III, the council’s chairman, said lawmakers need to make sure they’re protecting victims of harassment.

“There are some questions about how and when to report and also questions about what kinds of training might need to occur with legislators and staff in order to make sure everybody’s aware of the policy that exists,” Kito said.

Recent concerns about sexual harassment both outside Alaska and in Juneau have led lawmakers to consider making changes to the policy.

The Legislature’s sexual harassment policy was last updated in January 2000. It spells out what harassment is and how people should report it. The policy also said all reports will be investigated and employees who violate the policy will be subject to disciplinary action.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, a member of the council, said a sexual harassment policy working group could become a permanent subcommittee that would review the policy every year.

“Is there under-reporting, is there over-reporting, is there any reporting?” Millett said of the kind of questions a working group could ask. “And how does that work, and how do we make sure that employees and, you know, folks in this building – whether it’s a constituent, whether it’s a staffer, whether it’s the media, we just need to make sure that we have the best policies in place to protect our employees.”

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond is an alternate council member who is scheduled to fill in on Tuesday. She said one challenge for reporting on lawmakers is the limited means of reprimanding them. Each chamber can censure or expel its members. Otherwise, it’s up to voters to weigh allegations. But Drummond said the working group could benefit the Legislature.

“We have to provide a lot more clarity throughout this policy,” Drummond said. “And also, …  just in looking at all of these personnel policies in general, it needs some good, close scrutiny.”

Before the policy was added to the council agenda, some lawmakers said they wanted policy changes to be in place by early next legislative session in January.