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Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 12:05 am

Sexual harassment response continues into spring session

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago.
Photo By Lee Milner

Sexual harassment allegations from last fall are still on legislators’ minds as the General Assembly prepares for its spring session.

Sen. Christina Castro, D-Elgin, filed two bills in early January that would expand the jurisdiction of the Legislative Ethics Committee and the Legislative Inspector General (IG).

One bill would allow former legislators and legislative employees to face consequences for events that occurred during their time with the legislature. The other bill allows the IG to commence an investigation without prior approval from the commission.

Currently, the IG needs permission from the commission to conduct any investigation.
“It just seemed kind of ridiculous to me,” Castro said. “These are common-sense bills, so I foresee no problem in the Senate passing them in a bipartisan fashion.”

In the House, Rep. David McSweeney, R-Cary, also filed two new bills addressing the issue of sexual harassment, but from a different angle. McSweeney’s bills would confront how people use public money in relation to sexual harassment.

The first bill states that local governments and taxing bodies should inform the public of when they’re severing an employment relationship with someone accused of sexual harassment, and thus paying severance. The information released should include the person’s name, the amount they’re paid, and the fact that they were accused of sexual harassment or sexual discrimination.

The second bill would prohibit legislators from using public funds to pay a settlement in a sexual harassment case.

“I want to make sure that no taxpayer money is ever spent to settle sexual harassment claims against members of the General Assembly,” McSweeney said earlier this month. “We have secret payoffs by Democrat and Republican members of Congress. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

These bills are the latest in a series of legislative actions responding to an open letter from “The Women Who Make Illinois Run” that went public last October. The letter detailed several anonymous accounts of sexual harassment and misconduct and called for change.

“Let’s be clear,” the letter said, “every woman you know, in every industry – regardless of age, race, physical appearance, gender expression, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation – has a #MeToo story. Even if they don’t feel safe enough to share it in a social media post.”

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, one of the over 100 people who signed the letter, said, “It’s our duty to protect women, especially when we want more of them here in Springfield under the dome.”

Since the letter went public, the legislature worked to address the problems outlined, including implementing mandatory sexual harassment training,  creating a sexual harassment task force and extending the IG’s jurisdiction to investigate complaints outside of the set statute of limitations.

Megan Swett is an editorial intern for Illinois Times through the public affairs reporting program of University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.


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