Required for staffers, but voluntary for powerful lawmakers:
When the N.C. General Assembly’s top staffer announced plans last week to roll out sexual harassment training for state lawmakers and legislative employees, some state lawmakers hailed the move as a good first step.
But women’s rights advocates and experts in workplace sexual harassment tell Policy Watch that the training, which is voluntary for lawmakers, might not go far enough. “This strikes me as not a real effort to effect meaningful change,” said Laura Noble, a North Carolina attorney who specializes in workplace litigation and sexual harassment.
At least one of the drawbacks for keeping this "voluntary" for lawmakers has to do with perception. While those who are prone to unethical behavior usually don't realize it, and would likely skip the training, those who aren't prone to that consider themselves enlightened enough to not need it. But a big part of this training is designed to teach that second (and hopefully much larger) group how to spot red flags, and take steps to intervene when necessary. And it's almost always necessary, if you really want to stop the behavior. Which brings up a third group of people, who are not abusers but also want to maintain plausible deniability that anything wrong is happening right in front of their noses. In many ways, that last group is worse than the first. Here's more:
Jackson added that he agrees with advocates who say the General Assembly may need to do more, including the consideration of mandatory training for lawmakers. The Democratic leader said lawmakers complete ethics training at the beginning of their biennial long sessions. He said that would be the “perfect opportunity” to work in a live, sexual harassment training.
“Just watching a video with no chance for follow-up, with no back and forth, that’s probably a missed opportunity,” Jackson said.
Woodard said he hopes lawmakers from both parties would back required training. “I don’t know if a majority of colleagues in both chambers would or not,” he added. “But I think people need to be aware of the changing social mores.”
Critics say lawmakers should also act to launch an independent, investigative body that would hear harassment complaints, instead of relying on lawmakers to police their own colleagues. It’s an idea noted in the House Democratic minority leader’s January letter, although it’s unclear whether the Republican-dominated House and Senate will consider the proposal.
Honestly, in the current hyper-partisan environment of the NCGA, I have little trust these proposed investigations wouldn't (immediately) take on a partisan flavor, even if the "independent" body was recruited from outside the General Assembly itself. BergerMoore would likely control the selection criteria, and they simply can't take a single step without turning it into a power play.