There was an interesting vote in the State House today that broke down along party lines. The outcome of that vote speaks loudly as to why a culture of sexual harassment at the State Capitol remains largely unchecked.
House Bill 18-1391 passed out of the lower chamber on Wednesday despite opposition from the entire Republican caucus. What is HB18-1391, you ask? Here’s how Jesse Paul of the Denver Post explained the legislation earlier this week:
House Bill 1391 requires that each higher-education institution adopt — and periodically review — a sexual misconduct policy that includes reporting options and procedures for investigations and judgments, and protections for accusers and alleged attackers.
It also would bar the use of an accuser’s sexual history in adjudication proceedings, ensure there is a confidential reporting process, prohibit retaliation, require timely case updates to those involved and encourage prompt resolutions.
Basically, HB18-1391 would do for Colorado colleges and universities something that Republican lawmakers have consistently opposed under the Gold Dome: It would clarify and modernize sexual misconduct policies.
“Retaliation is a serious problem and a fear of retaliation prevents issues from surfacing, keeps people from raising problems and enables a culture of harassment to fester.”
— Report on sexual harassment at State Capitol by the Investigations Law Group.
House Republicans wanted nothing to do with this bill for reasons they will have to explain to others (and themselves) at some other time. That the GOP would much rather hide behind the curtain of “due process” than do anything to actually reduce sexual misconduct or harassment is a major reason why this new story from KUNC’s Bente Birkeland can still be written:
An outside consultant, who studied workplace culture at the state Capitol, found nearly half of the roughly 500 people surveyed had witnessed sexist and/or seriously disrespectful behavior. A third said they had experienced sexual harassment first-hand. And nearly 90 percent of those who say they were harassed didn’t speak out or file a complaint. Many said they feared retaliation from their accusers and others.
Those findings, by the Investigations Law Group, mirror what we’ve discovered in almost six months of reporting on this issue.
Our sources — both named and unnamed — say the Capitol’s culture needs to improve. They want elected officials to be held to a high standard, but most don’t want to go public or file a formal complaint, fearing it will cost them professionally, or even personally. [Pols emphasis]
Those that are fearful include four current and former Republican female staffers who are now sharing their allegations of inappropriate behavior by Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican. Joining them are four more current and former GOP staffers – three men and one woman – who say they witnessed or were aware of complaints about Baumgardner’s behavior.
Why would anyone feel safe to address sexual harassment in the State Capitol when House Republicans vote against a bill to clarify sexual misconduct policies at higher-education institutions in Colorado? Why would anyone not worry about retaliation when Senate President Kevin Grantham is more interested in blaming investigators and casting doubt on victims that making any real effort to clean things up in his caucus?
Grantham told Birkeland that he was “not aware of any other concerns” involving Sen. Randy Baumgarder, who was nearly expelled from the legislature earlier this month because of multiple claims of sexual harassment. Grantham has previously insisted that he was unaware of rumors about Baumgardner’s handsiness at the Capitol. To understand what makes these statements such a problem, let’s back up to an earlier paragraph in the KUNC story:
Historically, many complaints have been handled informally. One woman told us she complained in 2012 to then-chief of Staff Jesse Mallory that Baumgardner gave her long and unwanted hugs each day. The Senate minority leader at the time, Bill Cadman, allegedly barred Baumgardner from hugging staffers at work. Cadman did not return our requests to comment for this story. [Pols emphasis]
Grantham was a member of the Senate leadership in 2012. Perhaps this story is completely untrue, but if it’s not, it says a couple of bad things about the Senate President: Grantham is either willfully ignorant or horribly uninformed. Or, perhaps both. None of these answers are good.
The culture of sexual harassment in the State Capitol will not be fully addressed this session:
Instead, legislative leaders have decided to create a committee of lawmakers to study the issue over the summer and make recommendations for the 2019 legislative session. The consultant advised action this session, and some people both in and outside of the Capitol were disappointed by the delay.
“There’s an argument that says let’s get it right, let’s not rush into action,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “That being said, there needs to be a sense of urgency.”
That ridiculous quote from Gov. Hickenlooper is a problem in itself. The legislature hired an outside firm to conduct an investigation, and that firm recommended that the legislature take action this session. The State needs stronger leadership in order to insist that changes be made swiftly. It’s unrealistic to expect that lawmakers will ever get a new policy exactly right; that isn’t a reason to wait — it’s an excuse to punt. The perfect cannot be allowed to become the enemy of the good.
There are a lot of reasons why a culture of sexual harassment has been allowed to fester in the State Capitol. There are also many reasons why this is a problem that won’t be solved in 2018.
A lot of these are the same reasons.