Alaska’s legislature looks to Oregon for guidance on sexual harassment

Subcommittee considers how to handle claims

As the Alaska Legislature considers how to rewrite its guidelines for reporting sexual harassment and dealing with claims, it’s looking to the south.

 

In an hourlong meeting of a legislative subcommittee formed to deal with the topic, lawmakers agreed that the best way to start the rewrite is to examine how Oregon’s legislature addresses the topic.

“I think Oregon makes a great starting point,” said House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage.

Millett had previously requested advice from the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provided the lawmakers with copies of the policies used by Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Oregon and Hawaii.

Oregon’s simplicity and comprehensiveness seemed to resound with Alaska lawmakers.

Millett’s comment came in response to a suggestion made by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage. Claman had suggested that rather than trying to rewrite the legislature’s existing sexual harassment policy, lawmakers start with something that already works.

“I agree with Rep. Claman,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Claman’s comments followed those from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. In a prior meeting of the subcommittee, Micciche said he believed Oregon’s policy was the one to follow.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said during the subcommittee meeting that it might be a good idea to contact Oregon’s legislature to see how well its policy is working.

In October, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that state’s legislature was hiring an outside consultant to review its policies after a former staffer said she was unsatisfied with how her complaint was handled and how her harasser was subsequently hired by another legislator.

Skiff Lobaugh, the Alaska Legislature’s HR director, told lawmakers that he would come up with a draft based on Oregon’s rules and provide it to the subcommittee in January.

The subcommittee, which includes lawmakers from the Legislative Council — the body that makes rules for the Legislature itself — was created in November after Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, and Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, were named in separate incidents. An investigation by Lobaugh found Wilson did not sexually harass a staffer, and Westlake resigned before an investigation could take place.

According to statistics provided by Lobaugh to the Empire, the Legislative Affairs Agency has conducted 22 investigations since the Legislature’s harassment policy was revised in 2000. Eleven of those investigations (including the one clearing Wilson) were for sexual harassment. Two were for other forms of workplace harassment. Nine were for other workplace violations.

It is not yet clear whether the investigations targeted sitting legislators.

Clarification: This story has been updated with information from a prior meeting of the subcommittee.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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