The House of Representatives didn’t include a formal anti-harassment policy in amending its rules, a change the House speaker called for after an investigation found a pattern of harassment at the chamber.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he pulled a clause concerning a formal anti-harassment policy from the amended rules because there are questions about what part of the rulebook the harassment policy best fits in.
“There’s an ongoing discussion about the proper place to put the reference to the policy in the rules,” he said. “Should it be under the speaker’s power or should it be in a section that gives members more power to amend it?”
He added that once those questions are answered, the rulebook will “certainly” be amended to to include a formal harassment policy and it will come back for a vote.
“They weren’t just words,” he said, referring to remedial actions he announced last week following the release of the investigation report. “We’re going to make sure we have in House rules a harassment policy and code of conduct policy.”
After an investigation found that there was “credible evidence” former Rep. Don Shooter violated a sexual harassment policy and created a hostile working environment at the Capitol, Mesnard announced he planned to institute a formal code of conduct and prohibit the consumption of alcohol on House presimes. The House expelled Shooter Feb. 1.
Mesnard said he also wanted to add a formal anti-harassment policy to the House rules, which carry the force of law.
Prior to voting on the proposed changes on Feb. 5, Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese said he was disappointed to see the anti-harassment policy taken out.
“I believe in light of what just happened recently, the reflection of that policy in the rulebook is important,” he told his colleagues on the floor.
Minority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she asked leadership to add language to the rules to address harassment at the Capitol, such as a form to file written complaints, but her suggestions have gone unheard.
Townsend added that though she was discouraged to see the anti-harassment policy taken out of the rules, she was also not pleased with the original language. She said as it was written last week, it would give the speaker sole power to create a harassment policy, something she said lawmakers should have input in.
“More than one person has to have control over what that policy is,” she said. “It just said that there had to be a policy and that the speaker was the one who was making the policy. It didn’t give anyone else any control over what the policy was.”
To address many of the concerns expressed by her colleagues regarding the harassment investigative process and proposed changes to the House rules, Townshend introduced HB2546, which would require both the House and Senate to establish a comprehensive harassment policy.
The policy would include a non-retaliation policy, investigation and due process procedures, would provide for a standard form to allow members and staff to file written complaints, and would also address privacy concerns.
The policy would require senators to submit a written complaint to the secretary of the Senate, and representatives would submit their complaint to the chief clerk. Members must also provide a copy of the complaint to the accused person, chair of the ethics committee and the accounting office within two business days after filing the complaint.
The bill states that any member who “knowingly” files a false complaint would be subjected to discipline or expulsion.
“This is what I would like to see, either in the rules or in the policy, and the policy wouldn’t be changeable without a vote of the body,” Townsend said, though she noted that she was unsure if the bill would go anywhere.
Mesnard said though most agree that the House needs a harassment policy, there isn’t consensus on whether that policy should be in the House rules or in statute.
“I think (Townsend) has a very specific idea of how the process should work but I don’t know how much widespread agreement there is on the process,” he said.
He added that including the policy in House rules would make it easier to change, while a statute would require a member to introduce legislation to amend the law.