Lawmakers Pass Measures Cracking Down on Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment has been part of the way of life at the Illinois state capital for decades.

On Tuesday, lawmakers spent much of the day at the capitol decrying that culture and approving measures intended to root it out.

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Their swift action—unanimous approval of task forces, mandatory training and giving state government watchdogs the ability to investigate allegations of sexual harassment—came mere weeks after a letter from women involved in state politics exposed the system’s seedy underbelly.  

Senate Bill 402, which passed both the House and Senate on Tuesday and is on its way to the governor’s desk, will empower state inspectors general to investigate allegations of sexual harassment; require lobbyists, lawmakers, constitutional officers and state employees to take mandatory sexual harassment training; define procedures for reporting sexual harassment; and protect those who file complaints from retaliation.

Both chambers likewise approved House Bill 137, which clears the path for newly appointed Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter to investigate a backlog of dozens of complaints filed over the past couple of years while the office was vacant. Without the measure, Porter may have been blocked from investigating the complaints, because state law requires investigations begin within a year of the last alleged impropriety.

Lawmakers also approved a pair of task forces charged with further addressing sexual discrimination and harassment, as well as a resolution (House Joint Resolution 83) that calls for the General Assembly to work to change a culture that has long supported sexual harassment. 

Hundreds of women have signed the open letter and shared on a closed Facebook page their own detailed accounts of harassment, but only one legislator has been publicly named.

Victim rights advocate Denise Rotheimer accused Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, of playing “mind games” with her as she counted on him to sponsor legislation on her behalf.

Silverstein briefly spoke with reporters in the Senate chambers Tuesday, saying that he would love to speak with them about the situation but “my first conversation is going to be with the inspector general, which I hope to have as soon as possible. Thank you.” 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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Nov. 2: As Springfield grapples with allegations of rampant sexual misconduct and harassment, lapses and flaws in the system for dealing with charges of harassment and other unethical behavior are rising to the surface.

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