HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The dearth of sexual harassment complaints filed against Connecticut legislators was questioned Monday, with some lawmakers theorizing that people have avoided filing complaints because of the power legislators wield over staff, lobbyists and others.
State Sen. Mae Flexer, a Democrat from Killingly who began her political career at the state Capitol as an intern, said “each one of us could give multiple stories of people who chose not to be the hero” and file a complaint, worried that their careers could be harmed.
“There are still a lot of things that happen because of the power dynamic that’s unique to a building like this one,” said Flexer, who also voiced concern about relationships between lawmakers and staff they oversee. “When you’re a legislator, you have an awful lot of power.”
The General Assembly’s Committee on Legislative Management held a public hearing Monday to gather input on what, if anything, should be done to improve the legislature’s current sexual harassment policies, in light of national attention on the issue. Over the past 15 months, dozens of state lawmakers across the U.S. have been forced out of office, removed from leadership roles, reprimanded or publicly accused of sexual misconduct during a mounting backlash to such behavior by those in power.
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But Jim Tamburro, human resources administrator for the Office of Legislative Management, said only one sexual harassment complaint — submitted recently — has been filed in 10 years. He said there were two filed in the early 2000s, but those were submitted to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and not with his office. Legislative caucus staff confirmed to the Associated Press that several former lawmakers in the past were verbally reprimanded for inappropriate behavior.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said he believes there are likely “lots of other episodes” that have not been brought to Tamburro’s attention because people are fearful of coming forward. He questioned whether there is a new way to address the problem.
“We’re relying on people being courageous basically, and taking a pretty good risk that’s going to potentially trail them around if they’re involved in government and politics,” he said.
While the Connecticut General Assembly updated its sexual harassment policy in 2014, Tamburro said a new review is underway to see what can be done to improve the system and make it easier for people to file complaints, especially those who are not employees. The group is also looking at expanding job protections for those who report harassment, among other issues. Tamburro said a survey will be distributed in the coming days to the legislative staff, vendors and others about the work climate at the state Capitol complex. There is also a way to submit testimony about harassment anonymously on the Office of Legislative Management’s webpage.
Officials with the state’s human rights commission recommended lawmakers make the reporting process less confusing and possibly consider a non-fraternization policy, stepped-up training and other changes.