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New ND Legislature harassment policy a good start but needs tweaks, lawmakers say

“The Pioneer Family” stands in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on July 14, 2016, in Bismarck. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

BISMARCK—A proposed update to the North Dakota Legislature's workplace harassment policy needs some tweaks, state lawmakers said Monday, March 19.

Members of the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee, which includes leaders from both parties, got their first look at the new policy during a meeting at the state Capitol. It was drafted after a flood of sexual misconduct accusations against political, media and entertainment figures elsewhere in recent months.

The Legislature's current two-paragraph policy defines sexual harassment and merely states it won't be tolerated. Monday's proposal includes guidelines for reporting, investigating and disciplining "workplace harassment," which includes sexual harassment and harassment based on disability, race, religion and age.

"(It) creates a process for addressing complaints, and it's broader," said John Bjornson, legal division director for Legislative Council.

The proposed policy covers legislators, legislative employees, members of the media, lobbyists and "any other individual involved in the legislative process." It prohibits retaliation or discrimination for complaining about workplace harassment.

Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said the proposal was a "great beginning" but still has "some holes." She said the people charged with receiving and investigating complaints, which includes majority leaders and the Legislative Council director, would be busy during legislative sessions.

"If you're going to do a real investigation, oftentimes you end up doing six or eight interviews. Who has time to do that during session?" Hogan said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, wanted more clarification on options for disciplining legislators who violate the policy. Consequences for legislative employees range from an apology to termination under the proposed policy, but it leaves lawmaker discipline to legislative leaders who would act "according to constitutional and statutory provisions and the rules of the appropriate house" of the Legislature.

Carlson also signaled support for mandatory harassment training.

"I think that education would save us lots of money and lots of time later on," he said.

The committee is expected to take up the policy again in June.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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