Senator wants to require sexual harassment training for Ga. lawmakers

A DeKalb County senator on Friday introduced a bill that would require lawmakers and department heads to undergo sexual harassment training. It came in response to allegations leveled at powerful politicians, media figures and entertainers around the nation.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said discussions surrounding revelations of sexual harassment the past few months often lead to people not knowing what is appropriate and what isn’t.

“The bill I am introducing is an effort to make it clear what constitutes harassment and provide a greater understanding of what workplace behavior is appropriate and what is not,” Parent said in a statement. “The state Capitol should be a safe place to work and visit.”

Current law allows training to be administered on an as-needed basis. If her bill is passed, the training would be mandatory for all lawmakers and department heads and held every two years.

“Sometimes, the harassment goes unchecked, as we’ve seen in recent news reporting,” Parent said. “More often, women don’t come forward for fear of reprisal.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 313, also would expand the sexual harassment law to allow lobbyists and others to report inappropriate interactions with lawmakers to a legislative ethics committee.

Currently, lobbyists and private citizens would have to hire a lawyer and file a civil suit against a lawmaker or state staff member who acted inappropriately.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, said the financial barrier could be an additional factor keeping people from coming forward with allegations.

“If you’re being harassed by a staff member of the General Assembly or a legislator of the General Assembly you should be able to find a venue for that issue without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars to go get a lawyer,” Henson said.

The Georgia Legislature approved rules in 2010 that prohibit sexual harassment. Those rules, which remain in place, ban sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other conduct of a sexual nature when they affect an individual’s employment, interfere with work performance, or create an intimidating or hostile work environment.

House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle last month created a subcommittee to review internal rules for elected officials’ behavior.

The subcommittee, made up of three senators and three representatives, includes just one woman: its chairwoman, House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton.

The sexual harassment rules were created after Glenn Richardson resigned as House speaker in 2009 after his ex-wife accused him of participating in an affair with a female lobbyist.

Both Ralston and Cagle said earlier this month they are not aware of any recent allegations made against lawmakers or lobbyists.

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