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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Lawmakers Draft New Rules For Handling Harassment In Montana Legislature

The Montana Capitol in Helena.
Mike Albans
Montana Capitol, Helena.

Montana lawmakers are drafting new rules about how to handle harassment and discrimination in the legislative branch. 2018 has brought an unprecedented amount of legislation around the country on the subject of sexual harassment policies for legislative members. That’s according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Before Montana’s 2019 session, the Legislative Council is expected to approve new guidelines for how to report harassment and how potential investigations, and punishment, will proceed.

House Minority Leader Jenny Eck is chairing the subcommittee that met Tuesday to work on drafting the new rules.

"I have certainly had conversations with other legislators and other people who have worked up at the Capitol who have had instances of feeling uncomfortable, have felt like lines have been crossed, but haven’t known what to do or where to go, or have been concerned about being able to deal with something in a confidential manner," says Eck.

While there are rules within the legislature that prohibit harassment, and sexual harassment explicitly, Eck says the current rules are unclear about how findings of harassment should be dealt with.

A draft of the new rules creates a path for such complaints. If adopted, complaints would be sent to a panel of legislative leaders and potentially lead to an investigation and disciplinary action.

Eck says the need for the Legislative Council to look into this issue arose last fall, as reports and allegations of sexual harassment among national elected officials and high-profile people ran on national media.

"Hearing all these national conversations, reflecting on our own institution and thinking, you know, do we have these policies in place, and can we do better. No, we don’t have the best policies in place, in my perspective, and yes we can do better."

The current draft of the rules would make training on sexual harassment prevention mandatory for all legislators, presiding officers, permanent branch staff, and House and Senate staff, including pages and aids.

The next full meeting of the Legislative Council is scheduled for later this month.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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