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Washington Lawmakers may not Create an Independent Office for Investigation into Harassment Complaints

Politics

Washington Lawmakers may not Create an Independent Office for Investigation into Harassment Complaints

The #MeToo movement all over the globe has brought a gamut of changes in the fields of sexual assault reporting and investigations as well. Washington State also is not spared from the reporting of such cases. But even after almost one and a half year the movement’s start, the lawmakers could not set up an independent investigation office which would look after the reports of sexual misconducts in the workplace.

But the lawmakers have managed to pass a new code of conduct and successfully advanced other related bills which would prevent and punish sexual misconducts at the workplace. Previously, the Senate, as well as the House, have made attempts to boost anti-harassment training and improve the legislature’s broader workplace culture. The recently advised bills are seen in addition to the previous steps taken.

But there was a demand for creation of an independent office which would receive and review complaints of a sexual offense at the workplace. It has been 18 months since the movement started; there is yet an independent office to be created for the same. So, this now leaves the State legislature with only one option to rely on the outsiders for conducting an investigation into such cases, and this is considered as a stopgap by some legislative officials.

The idea of an independent office for assessing these allegations emerged as in 2017 women started to tell stories of harassment in Olympia.  That happened during the legislative session, and influential elected officials, lobbyists, and legislative staffers devoted multiple hours for this concept of independent office.

Recently, around 200 women signed a letter stating that they had “no safe, neutral place to report our experiences.” This shows the legislature’s outdated protocols to handle sexual offense allegations. Though the lawmakers have managed to pass a code of conduct, there is much work to be completed for the system to be robust, as per a former Rep. Jessyn Farrell of Seattle, Farrell left legislature in 2017, and he had at the forefront for reviewing the cases of that type.

“There still continues to be needed for an independent investigator,” Farrell said, adding later: “I do think that the community on the outside continues to need to advocate and hold the Legislature accountable.”

However, the question still remains on how the investigation should forward with the creation of an independent office. It should be noted that in the past few years, four lawmakers have either lost elections or made to resign on the allegations of sexual misconduct.

A Senate committee last year approved an internal HR position to handle such complaints and investigations. Senate officials expect that the post would be filled up by the start of this year and it would work efficiently. According to Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson, they are in the process of hiring for that post and the chamber is now accepting applications of candidates for filling that post.

An internal workgroup in the house recommended the legislature to set up an independent office without any interference from the legislature to receive and review complaints. The internal group, which had several House lawmakers, legislative staffers, and lobbyists, demanded that the office should be created by mid-2019.

As per House Chief Clerk Bernard Dean, the proposed agency would cover both the chambers, and it would receive and investigate complaints.

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