On the heels of #MeToo, the state Senate did the right thing by approving a new human resources office to handle sexual harassment complaints. The state House now must follow suit.
Ever so slowly, Washington’s Legislature is coming to grips with its sexual-harassment problem.
State Senate leaders took a commendable step last week by approving a new human-resources office to handle misconduct complaints.
But given the reports of misbehavior that have engulfed the Capitol in recent months, the Legislature’s work cannot end there.
The state House must join the Senate in approving a nonpartisan office for investigating sexual-harassment allegations.
And, ultimately, both chambers must come together to ensure they don’t develop different sets of rules for what constitutes harassment on one side of the Capitol rotunda versus the other.
This work could not be more timely or important. Since last fall, the #MeToo movement has shaken loose previously unreported allegations of Washington lawmakers behaving inappropriately toward staffers and lobbyists.
More than 200 women who have worked at the Capitol — including past and present female legislators — have signed a letter calling for change, noting they have no neutral place to report their experiences and little confidence that bad actors will face meaningful consequences.
The Senate’s creation of a human-resource officer, one of several recommendations developed by Senate staff, aims to address those concerns.
Yet it also highlights the disappointing lack of coordination between House and Senate leaders to stamp out a problem that affects both chambers.
During the 2018 legislative session, the House and Senate failed to create a joint task force to craft new workplace policies together.
Instead, Senate staffers worked independently on recommendations for updating that chamber’s rules and procedures, a process that is now playing out separately in the House.
Another House work group — which includes lawmakers and lobbyists in addition to legislative staff — is still looking at creating an independent resource to support victims of harassment. The House must accelerate this work, ideally joining forces with the Senate to create a single nonpartisan office that investigates workplace misconduct complaints across both chambers.
Fundamentally, lobbyists and staff should not have to navigate different rules for reporting violations from chamber to chamber. Nor should standards of what constitutes harassment vary depending on whether someone is a senator or representative.
The Senate, meanwhile, has more work to do to address potential harassment of lobbyists, who work at the Capitol but are not employed by the Legislature. Senate leaders should also look deeper at ways to improve the culture at the Capitol and help prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place.
So far, the House work group appears to be tackling those issues more directly.
The Legislature must get this right — but it must do so without further delay.
The women who work at the Capitol have waited long enough.