Policies Regarding Harassment In The Oregon State Capitol May Soon Be Revised

Policies Regarding Harassment In The Oregon: There have always been complaints about how the state Capitol handles allegations of harassment and retaliation.

Legislators and staff in Salem have been complaining the system can be unfair to victims and the guilty alike since lawmakers enacted the current policy in 2019 โ€” in the wake of a sexual harassment crisis that showed the Legislature’s failures to handle the issue.

An open position in the Capitol to handle complaints and guide complainants through the convoluted procedure has gone unfilled. Additionally, committee votes regarding the conduct of lawmakers have occasionally followed partisan lines, indicating that party identification may have a decisive influence on whether an individual is held accountable for their activities.

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Now it appears that the procedure, known in the Capitol as Rule 27, may be about to undergo significant revisions.

Speaker Dan Rayfield and Majority Leader Julie Fahey, the top two House Democrats, jointly said earlier this week that they will strive to change the procedure for handling worker grievances.

The two stated that it is “obvious this process must be considerably improved to give better support for persons who have experienced harassment.” “Unfortunately, we’ve seen the Legislature’s Conduct Committee utilized for clearly political objectives far too frequently, and most recently in a hearing this past month. This threatens to undermine good faith efforts to make the Capitol safer for everyone.

The declaration supports growing criticism of the Rule 27 procedure and implies that when lawmakers meet again the following year, they will try once more to restructure the complex issue of Capitol harassment policies.

Rayfield and Fahey are holding back their opinions on the specifics of these adjustments for the time being, though.

According to Danny Moran, a spokesman for Rayfield, “The Speaker and Majority Leader do have suggestions for procedural improvements, but will not presuppose next moves before there is a thorough bipartisan process formed to discuss and enact reforms.”

After two recent hearings involving a complaint against Tina Kotek, the former House speaker and current Democratic candidate for governor, the House Democrats released a statement.

Policies Regarding Harassment In The OregonPolicies Regarding Harassment In The Oregon
Policies Regarding Harassment In Oregon

Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, a former lawmaker, claimed Kotek had threatened him politically over his vote on a measure in 2019 and accused her of creating a hostile work environment. On whether Kotek had broken the rules, the House Conduct Committee, the committee tasked with determining whether such accusations have validity, split 2-2 along party lines. The situation came to a deadlock.

Rayfield and Fahey’s remarks about utilizing the procedure for “blatantly political motives” seemed to be more directed at Hernandez than at the partisan vote divide. During a portion of his lengthy testimony on October 19, the former congressman criticized the treatment he received when he was accused of harassing three former partners in 2021. In the end, he chose to leave rather than risk his House colleagues voting him out of office.

Hernandez noted throughout the hearing that failing at relationships may result in expulsion from the legislature. However, it is acceptable to be poisonous and bullying against one’s own coworkers.

Democrats reacted angrily to what they perceived as Hernandez’s attempt to “relitigate” the allegations he had faced the year prior.

State Representative Jason Kropf, D-Bend, a member of the Conduct Committee, expressed his concern during the hearing: “My fear is that people who have complaints in the future will no longer have the confidence to come forward.” This is an avenue for the relitigation of previous determinations of misconduct.

More objections to the Rule 27 procedure exist than that.

According to the policy, there are many ways for workers who have encountered harassment, retribution, or a hostile work environment to report the behavior to Capitol officials. They can opt to lodge a formal complaint, which triggers an examination and open meeting. Alternatives include trying to find a less conspicuous solution or perhaps just discreetly alerting authorities to the activity in case it develops into a routine.

The policy was negotiated in the midst of a scandal involving former state senator Jeff Kruse, a Republican from Roseburg, who was found by an investigation to have harassed coworkers, staff, and lobbyists. In response, lawmakers requested suggestions for an improved procedure from the Oregon Law Commission.

The legislative equality officer, or LEO, will be in charge of resolving harassment allegations in place of human resources representatives and legislative attorneys, according to a proposal developed by the commission.

However, the Legislature has been unable to appoint a permanent replacement. The last LEO resigned last year amid controversy and is currently suing the Legislature. The individual before them was charged with negligent record-keeping and disregarding complaints. Legislators have agreed to provide a headhunting company with up to $100,000 to locate a replacement, and the position is currently vacant.

Salem Republican and state representative Raquel Moore-Green said, “We can’t even find anyone to hold the post, which is a significant worry.”

Since there is no LEO, private employment lawyers who are hired by the Legislature to look into complaints have more authority. In addition to those investigations, the attorneys are now responsible for taking complaints and guiding complainants through the procedure.

According to Hernandez’s lawsuit, the private law companies handling the work aren’t giving it a top priority. Rule 27 demands that complaints be resolved in 84 days. Hernandez’s hearing was delayed for more than 600 days, and some people speculated that this was done to protect Kotek from negative criticism as she runs for governor.

The Stoel Rives attorney Melissa Healy who conducted the investigation claimed that five witnesses she spoke with were part of the reason for the delay, but she did not say what additional circumstances were involved. She disputed the existence of political pressure.

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Legislators assert that the procedure was flawed despite this.

The timing of this investigation, according to Kropf, was unacceptable. “We require a quicker procedure.”

Others contend that the mere fact that Kotek avoided being blamed for fostering a hostile work environment is an issue and that arm-twisting over bills shouldn’t be permitted just because the Capitol is seen as a political arena rather than a standard workplace.

Former state representative Brian Clem, D-Salem, who spoke on behalf of Hernandez earlier this month, said that it is unacceptable that Rule 27 does not protect lawmakers if they are treated in a toxic, abusive way. They too are people.

Some legislators have tried to remove themselves from the harassment process in the Legislature because they have grown so angry about it.

The co-chairmanship of the Conduct Committee, which deals with Rule 27 complaints, was resigned by state representative Ron Noble, a Republican from McMinnville. As a result of his dissatisfaction with the way Hernandez’s complaint against Kotek was handled, his successor, state representative Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, has now declared he will resign from the committee.

Bonham announced his decision to withdraw from the Hernandez complaint hearings in a letter dated October 14 that stated, “The existing framework of Rule 27 and the Conduct procedure, well-intentioned as they may have been, aren’t functionally effective.” “Politics and power relations continue to be in control. We are condemned to repeat past errors until that changes, and people in positions of authority will always find a way to get away from the very scrutiny they desire to inflict on others.

Until next year, it won’t be obvious exactly what actions Congress might take to solve those and other issues. On January 17, 2023, the Salem Legislature meets.

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