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An upper part of the Louisiana State Capitol, seen as workers with the Baton Rouge roofing and sheet metal company Cribbs Inc. work far below, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, on building a steel-reinforced covered walkway over the front entrance to the building. The covered walkway is a short term solution to the problem of falling pieces of mortar coming down from the 86-year-old building, until money can be found for to pay for remediation work on the building.

A task force charged with tracking the states efforts to discourage sexual harassment held its first meeting Tuesday, with officials vowing to keep up with an issue that had gone mostly unwatched for decades until a string of high-profile misconduct claims emerged in reports over the past year. 

“The Legislature is taking these issues very seriously,” said Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco. “We want to make sure that we very clearly comply with federal law and state law and create a work environment that is free from sexual harassment.”

The panel is expected to make recommendations to the House and Senate to update their policies for preventing misconduct in legislative environments, as well as direct broader training and anti-harassment policies across state government.

The passage of the state’s first government-wide anti-harassment legislation last year was seen as a key victory on one of the major issues of the session, thanks in part to the national #MeToo movement and high-profile harassment cases that emerged here.

Amid the national examination of sexual harassment and misconduct issues, Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Johnny Anderson, then deputy chief of staff to Gov. John Bel Edwards, both stepped down from their government roles after facing allegations that have since resulted in the state paying out-of-court settlements.

Under the legislation, state agencies must adopt comprehensive policies that must include information about conduct that isn't tolerated, including retaliation for reporting, and detailed grievance processes. Additionally, every public servant is required to undergo at least an hour of anti-harassment training each year, and annual reports are to be compiled and made public for each agency.

Several legislators agreed during Tuesday's meeting that state government needs to create an environment where, in addition to harassment being discouraged, reporting is encouraged when employees feel they have been mistreated.

“There is a perception that things get reported and nothing happens," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

The new law requires that state agencies submit annual reports due each February to outline sexual harassment complaints and outcomes.

A legislative auditor's review last spring found that Louisiana taxpayers had paid more than $5 million on harassment lawsuits across state government over the past decade.

The auditor found that more than 330 harassment claims have been reported internally in the past five years — more than half of which fell within the state's higher education and corrections systems.

A key issue noted in the auditor's report and other recent reviews was that the state had no uniform anti-harassment policy nor minimum requirements for agencies to adopt, prompting a coalition of female legislators to spearhead the effort toward a more comprehensive approach that ended with the new law.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.