State lawmakers deliberated a raft of sexual harassment and misconduct legislation stemming from the #MeToo movement Thursday as the end of the legislative session nears.
The debate became heated at times amid frustration over a lack of movement to address such issues.
"It's not a surprise that those of us who've been pushing for action on this issue are frustrated and speaking publicly because 25 bills have been introduced on this topic so far this session--some by Democrats and some by Republicans--and today is the first day we're having a hearing on any of those bills," said Leanne Krueger-Braneky, a Delaware County Democrat.
Sexual harassment inside the Pa. Capitol? It exists and 'needs to stop,' lobbyist says
The Pennsylvania Capitol is no stranger to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and some say it's time for people to speak out about it in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal and make it stop.
Krueger-Braneky's House Bill 1965 bans non-disclosure agreements and the use of taxpayer funds to settle sexual misconduct cases involving state lawmakers. Other bills considered Thursday would expand protections for employees statewide and increase the statute of limitations for victims to file discrimination and harassment complaints.
Earlier this year, a resolution calling for a yearlong study narrowly passed the House Labor and Industry Committee. The other proposals languished without a vote.
"We have an election and then a whole new Legislature comes in next year," said Rep. John Galloway, a Bucks County Democrat and the committee's minority chair. "These bills are thrown in the trash can. They're gone. All of it is gone. All of it's done. It all starts over every two years. So this is it."
Rep. Rob Kauffman, a Franklin County Republican and the committee chair, said he'd considered cancelling Thursday's hearing altogether out of concern the issue was being politicized. He would not commit to a path to passage for the bills.
"We're going to hear from folks about their concerns and what they think is great about these legislative proposals," he said. "Once we get that feedback, then we can sit back and evaluate where we proceed from here."
Advocacy groups like the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project have come out in favor of reforming how sexual misconduct cases are handled. But some of the proposals drew criticism from pro-business groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Business, for being over-broad and potentially onerous on small businesses that lack in-house legal teams.
Nationally, the Associated Press found that since January 2017 at least 30 state lawmakers have resigned or been expelled from office following allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, including 24 who left since early in October 2017 as the #MeToo movement gained momentum.
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A woman who is accusing Rep. Nick Miccarelli of rape said, "I'm telling the truth and I'm going to see this through to completion." Miccarelli denies allegations that he sexually assaulted women and said he was "absolutely appalled by these allegations."
Several Pennsylvania lawmakers faced allegations, although none have resigned.
Pennsylvania's Legislature is nearing the end of its 2017-18 session, with 10 or fewer voting days scheduled between now and the end of the year in each chamber.
According to the AP, six states have moved to ban the use of funds to settle sexual misconduct claims. Four others banned the use of non-disclosure agreements.
Bills considered at Thursday's committee hearing include:
- HB 1965, the #MeToo PA State House Act
- HB 2280, amending the state Human Relations Act to expand protections for workers
- HB 2282, amending the state Human Relations Act to expand protections for interns
- HB 2283, concerning employment fair practices
- HB 2284, extending the statute of limitations
- HB 2286, also extending the statute of limitations
- HB 2475, amending the state Human Relations Act to set policies for harassment, discrimination and retaliation
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Wallace McKelvey may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wjmckelvey. Find PennLive on Facebook.