BR.floodreflection.081417 750_5660.jpg

Governor John Bel Edwards speaks at a flood reflection/commemoration service at the Living Faith Christian Center on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017.

Advocate photo by CAROLINE OURSO

Gov. John Bel Edwards is creating a task force to examine sexual harassment and discrimination in state government, following allegations that led to the resignation of one of Edwards' top aides.

The task force, which Edwards established by executive order on Wednesday, will submit a report to the governor by March 1. The panel will include seven human resources professionals from state government and the private sector, but names are still being finalized, Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said.

It is at least the fourth probe that has been launched into how Louisiana government handles harassment allegations, amid a growing national focus on sexual misconduct and news that Edward's deputy chief of staff Johnny Anderson resigned facing harassment allegations. Anderson has denied wrongdoing.

Separately, the state legislative auditor, at the request of State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, is looking into the issue, as well as various hiring practices. 

The Senate Select Committee on Women and Children is scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday to examine the state House and Senate's handling of harassment allegations, among other topics on the issue.

The Louisiana Women’s Policy and Research Commission also has been looking into sexual harassment in state government.

"Every person, whether they work in state government or private industry, should be able to do their jobs without fear of being sexually harassed or discriminated against," Edwards said in a written statement. "There is no circumstance under which harassment or discrimination of any kind will be tolerated by my administration."

This task force's goal will be to identify which policies are effective or need to be altered as well as whether new ones are needed.

"The goal is to ensure state employees are safe at work and have the confidence in knowing that any allegation made will be taken seriously and that there are adequate procedures in place to address those complaints," Edwards said in the statement. "The work has already begun, and we will have helpful discussions and feedback in very short order.”

Edwards, a Democrat, hasn't personally spoken publicly about Anderson's resignation or the general issue of harassment in state government. His top aides have defended the Edwards administration as having a "zero tolerance" policy toward sexual harassment and noted that Anderson, who previously served in Kathleen Blanco's administration, was never found guilty of wrongdoing in the 2006 allegations.

The recent studies into harassment also follow allegations against the state corrections department medical director, Dr. Raman Singh, that led to his firing after an internal investigation. Singh, who began working for the state in 2002, has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the state over his termination.

According to the governor's executive order, his task force will review the sexual harassment and discrimination policies of each state agency within the executive branch, research harassment and discrimination prevention efforts; develop new employee orientation procedures, and come up with a clear reporting and investigation process for allegations.

All state agencies that fall under Edwards have also been directed to review their own policies and submit reports to his administration by Jan. 1.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.