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House Sexual Harassment Work Group Meets To Create Permanent Policies

State Rep. Donna Howard speaks in the Texas House chamber.
Martin do Nascimento/KUT
State Rep. Donna Howard speaks in the Texas House chamber.

From Texas Standard:

In the wake of worldwide demand for a change in workplace cultures that effectively condone sexual misconduct, the Texas Legislature is having a #MeToo moment of its own. On Friday, a House working group is meeting to discuss how to crack down on violators in its own chamber, after reports last year of an "online whisper network" among women in the Legislature who shared their experiences with harassment.

Donna Howard is a Democratic member of the Texas House, representing District 48. She's also co-chair of the workgroup for the House sexual harassment policy. Howard says power differentials within legislative bodies contribute to a culture that enables harassment. She says the working group, which came out of a recommendation from House Speaker Joe Straus, is working to ensure harassment isn't tolerated.

"We're actually going to be putting some things in place that I hope will give confidence to the public that we actually mean that," Howard says.

The legislature has had a policy regarding sexual harassment for some time, Howard says, but she says an indicator of its lack of seriousness is that it lists an inaccurate phone number for those wanting to report abuse.

"We made a quick revision that addressed some of those things, as well as put more information into the policy," Howard says. "We did that knowing we were going to spend a lot more time trying to come up with best practices and get something really solid in place."

Howard says a legislative body faces unique challenges when it comes to creating and enforcing a sexual harassment policy.

"The challenge that legislatures, in particular, face is that we are elected," she says. "We have no boss, per se, other than the voters."

She says incidents that occur between elections don't result in immediate accountability for a lawmaker until it's time to face the voters again. She says the House working group will discuss having third parties respond to complaints against elected officials.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Copyright 2018 KUT 90.5

Rhonda is the newest member of the KUT News team, joining in late 2013 as producer for KUT's new daily news program, The Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.