Last month I wrote about the fact that the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment have dominated the national news, causing them to become topics at our State Capitol. State lawmakers on the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee met last week to review policies in regards to these issues.
As part of last month’s article, I wrote about some comments that Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman (D – District 23) made claiming that it wouldn’t be hard to find instances of harassment at the State Capitol. Unfortunately, Senator Heckaman refused to elaborate on that statement.
Following their committee meeting last week, Rep. Kathy Hogan (D – District 21) – a committee member and one of the most pleasant members of the Legislature was on the Rob Re(Port) radio program and made some pretty strong comments herself regarding the issue. After estimating that upwards of 50% of the women working at the legislature have experienced sexual harassment, she said:
“We see the behavior so frequently we’ve almost gotten to the point of accepting it.”
These are serious claims that Senator Heckaman and Rep. Hogan are making. In fact, Hogan’s comments answer a question asked in last month’s article of whether Heckaman was indicating that sexual harassment wasn’t all that uncommon. Hogan’s statement seems to affirm that such claims aren’t uncommon at all.
Yet, all of this seems to be new to Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner. I recently spoke with someone involved in a conversation about this very issue with Wardner and apparently the majority leader wasn’t aware of the prevalence of such incidences at all.
What is there to gain by refusing to notify Wardner if these problems exist? Not only should he be made aware if the problem is as prevalent as they make it sound, but House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R – District 41) should be informed as well.
This still causes me to question– Why will Senator Heckaman not elaborate on her claim? And what evidence can Rep. Hogan provide to back up hers?
I have no doubt that if such incidences exist, that those affected by them are likely hesitant to say anything for fear of the publicity. Not to mention that there is apparently no process in the Legislature for reporting such things– a problem the aforementioned committee hopes to resolve. But if the problem is as prevalent as Senator Heckaman and Rep. Hogan suggest that it is, it needs to be dealt with– immediately.
Not only does the process for reporting claims of sexual harassment need to be in place, but North Dakota’s lawmakers must take the necessary steps to ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for any settlements that could result from them. Anything else is unacceptable.