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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tanzi bill results in legislative study group on sexual harassment

House creates panel to study workplace sexual harassment

Image result for sexual harassmentThe House of Representatives approved a new legislative study commission tasked with reviewing existing state laws and recent federal policy recommendations meant to protect individuals against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The bill (2018-H 7678), sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, is a response to the national public discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment prompted by the #metoo movement.

“As the #metoo movement quickly grew this fall, it created a long overdue public dialogue about the fact that many have silently tolerated behavior that is completely unacceptable and, in fact, harmful to individuals and workplace productivity. 

"It has also shed light on the fact that this isn’t a problem confined to any one sector or only some workplaces. As we learned from the many victims who have shared their stories, sexual harassment is a pervasive phenomenon that requires targeted intervention. The original laws and policies that address these issues have been in place for nearly 30 years and are ripe for review to ensure that they are effective,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).

Representative Tanzi met with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who agreed to institute anti-harassment training for legislators and staff, and to the formation of a legislative commission to examine state sexual harassment laws and policies. Speaker Mattiello is a cosponsor of the legislation.

Under the legislation, which is a House resolution that does not need Senate approval for passage, the 11-member commission will include five members of the House of Representatives, of whom one shall be an active member of the Rhode Island Bar Association; the attorney general; the executive director of the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights; the associate director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity of the Department of Administration; the president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association or their designees; a member of the LGBTQ community and a member of the business community with expertise in human resources practices. 

The commission is set to complete its work and report to the House of Representatives by May 17 and would expire June 7. Representative Tanzi said it’s her hope that the committee’s members will soon be appointed.

Representative Tanzi said she plans for the commission to review recent federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommendations and look at best practices around the country with regard to training so people understand what constitutes harassment and what to do about it, with the goal of encouraging bystander intervention, and empowering victims to report harassment while simultaneously protecting them from retaliation. 

A second goal is to review laws other states have enacted and make recommendations to update and strengthen Rhode Island laws.