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Secretary of State Tom Schedler, facing sexual harassment allegations, speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at his office in Baton Rouge.

Last year, the Legislature set out to revamp state law and government policies on sexual harassment, as a national movement exposing sexual misconduct made its way to Louisiana and brought down two high-profile political leaders.

This session, lawmakers continued taking aim at the issue. 

The Legislature in recent days has passed measures to prevent the state from keeping victims of harassment silent when settling lawsuits, and requiring those guilty of harassment to pay their own money, limiting taxpayer dollars, to settle claims.

The Legislature overwhelmingly backed the two bills, sending both to the governor’s desk in the final weeks of the legislative session. Gov. John Bel Edwards last week signed the first, House Bill 197, by state Rep. Franklin Foil, a bill that prohibits the use of non-disclosure agreements in state-settled sex harassment lawsuits.

The second, Senate Bill 182, by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, was sent to Edwards’ desk on Thursday, the final day of the session. The measure aims to require the guilty party in sexual harassment lawsuits against the state or public officials to pay some of their own money to settle the claim.

“We're trying to put teeth in our policies to say if you are guilty of sexual harassment, you will have some financial accountability for your actions,” said Hewitt, R-Slidell. “We don't want people to get a free pass financially when they're making bad decisions.”

Lawmakers could also in the coming months pass a policy that seeks to protect third parties – reporters, lobbyists and others – from sexual harassment at the State Capitol, after a task force recommended the change just before the legislative session.

The measures are colored by Louisiana’s two most significant political casualties of the #MeToo movement: former Secretary of State Tom Schedler and former Edwards' aide Johnny Anderson.

Schedler, a Republican, resigned last May after being accused of sexually harassing one of his employees repeatedly over a span of several years, sending the woman love letters and sex tapes and then retaliating when she rebuffed his advances.

As part of a settlement the state reached with the woman, Schedler was required to personally pay $18,425, on top of nearly $150,000 in taxpayer money. The agreement also included a gag clause that prevents those involved from talking about it, and no acknowledgement of liability from Schedler.

Taxpayers were on the hook for $85,000 to settle claims against Anderson, who resigned as the governor’s deputy chief of staff for programs and planning in late 2017 after being accused of sexual harassment. The settlement also included a clause that prevented the two sides from bad-mouthing each other in the future.

As those cases played out, lawmakers began turning a more critical eye towards incidents of unwanted sexual advances. Louisiana previously did not have a statewide government policy on sexual harassment, and lawmakers passed legislation requiring public entities to have anti-harassment policies and require public servants to receive annual training.

"We think we're moving in the right direction,” said Hewitt, who served on one of the task forces taking aim at harassment.

Foil, a Baton Rouge Republican, brought his proposal to end the practice of keeping victims in sexual harassment lawsuits silent as part of the settlement. But he rebuffed calls by U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, to amend the bill to also prohibit non-disparagement clauses.

Edwards signed HB197 last week along with several others.

"I felt like if you use public money to settle a sexual harassment case, a victim should have the right to speak out," Foil said after winning approval from the House.

Louisiana has paid millions to settle sexual harassment claims over the years, and Hewitt said an audit that revealed the extent of the problem in recent years prompted her to file the bill. The Legislative Auditor found the state spent more than $5.1 million on at least 84 lawsuits involving sexual harassment claims since 2009.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.