The Texas House of Representatives Committee of Administration unanimously voted to revise the chamber's sexual harassment policy Friday morning.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) called on lawmakers to make changes after reports surfaced alleging some male lawmakers and high-ranking members of their staff harassed and assaulted women in the Texas State Capitol; most of which did not file a complaint for fear of retaliation.
The committee sent a policy revision to lawmakers just before Thanksgiving, giving them a week to suggest changes. Committee Chair Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) said despite the holiday, lawmakers provided feedback, much of which was incorporated into the policy.
Geren said the most significant changes to the policy include:
- Requiring members, staff and interns to take sexual harassment and discrimination training within the first 30 days of employment and every two years thereafter
- Prohibiting retaliation against someone who makes a claim and action to protect their privacy
- Details the internal investigation process and includes information on other avenues to report
- Counseling and confidential assistance
- Applies to interns
- What harassment is and states all forms violate House Policy and should be reported
Geren said Austin Representative Donna Howard also played a key role in crafting the revision.
"Particularly, we were interested in making sure that anyone who felt like they had been harassed knew that we had a policy that was going to have some teeth to it, that would give clear direction about what they needed to do to make their complaint, that would give more direction about what would actually be happening if an investigation occurred," said Howard.
"We know that one of the primary reasons that people, and often times it is women, don't report instances of harassment and or assault is because they're not confident in the system to address their complaint," she added. "So we wanted to make sure that whatever revisions we did were going to take those things into account, give us a policy that was respectful."
If a staff member or intern violates the policy the committee has authority to discipline them. Action against a representative would have to be approved by two-thirds of the House.
To increase transparency and accountability, the names of the lawmakers who take and pass the training will be listed on a publicly-accessible website.
Geren said the training will include a video that will be available within the next two weeks. He also plans to ask Straus to appoint a working group to continue looking at the policy in the interim and make suggestions.
In the senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has also asked senators to review their policy.