House panel approves two bills in response to sexual harassment scandal

lblackford@herald-leader.comFebruary 27, 2014 

John Arnold was charged with sexual harrassment by legislative staffers.

DARRIN PHEGLEY — Associated Press/The Gleaner file photo

FRANKFORT — A legislative committee took steps Thursday to further clean up a sexual harassment scandal that exploded in the Capitol this past fall.

Two bills — one dealing with sexual harassment training and the other with personnel policies in the Legislative Research Commission — sailed out of the House State Government Committee.

They were filed in response to the situation surrounding former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, who stepped down after three women accused him of sexual harassment. Shortly afterward, LRC Director Robert Sherman resigned amid reports that he had given four extra pay raises to a woman with whom he was allegedly in a relationship.

Two of the women who alleged sexual harassment also complained that Sherman had not adequately dealt with their complaints.

"It's an attempt to address the issues," said Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, who is chairman of the committee.

"Human behavior cannot be regulated," but the bills "set up parameters to set rules of behaviors," he said.

In the wake of the scandal, Yonts said he found there was no overall personnel policy governing raises or much of anything else for the roughly 350 employees of the Legislative Research Commission, which is the administrative arm of the General Assembly.

He sponsored House Bill 88, which would require the LRC director to create a personnel policy manual, which would include making sure all employees are classified appropriately according to their experience and education. Under the bill, any raise above 5 percent would have to be approved by leaders of the House and Senate.

"These are new rules of the road that should be followed — because there were no rules," Yonts said.

House Bill 378 would require the LRC to annually evaluate its written policies and procedures on workplace harassment, and codify that all members of the General Assembly and employees of LRC undergo annual, in-person sexual harassment training.

Currently, legislators receive ethics training, and this year, harassment training was added. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, was approved by the committee unanimously and without discussion.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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