State Politics

More training would discourage sexual harassment in Idaho’s Capitol, lawmakers say

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.

Fourteen female lawmakers have signed a letter to Idaho legislative leadership requesting mandatory sexual harassment training in the Statehouse.

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said Monday that the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations surfacing in governments and businesses around the country inspired her letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill.

“Sexual harassment is inappropriate in any workplace setting. It would be especially disappointing if it were to take place in the Idaho Legislature — where each year we gather to conduct the people’s business,” wrote Troy in the letter.

Idaho lawmakers undergo mandatory ethics training every year. Troy said it could be feasible to add a sexual harassment component to that training for lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers.

The Statesman could not immediately reach Troy on Monday for further comment.

Bedke and Hill said separately Monday that legislative leaders were already planning an anti-harassment training course for the beginning of the 2018 session. Bedke told the Statesman that like Troy, leadership had also been watching accusations unfold in other states and about two weeks ago started discussing the training.

“We’re still ironing out the details but we will have officials with the state’s human resources department and the Attorney General’s office,” Hill said. “It will be required for lawmakers, pages and interns but we hope that lobbyists and the press attend too. We’re all watching out for everyone.”

Speaking over the last few days about the letter, several female lawmakers told the Statesman they felt the Legislature needs to set an example for how to appropriately discourage harassment.

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, is in her second two-year term. She said she has seen an inclusive, collegial environment during her time in the Senate, one that she wasn’t sure whether to expect during her first two years in office.

“I was not sure what to expect coming into the male-dominated experience,” Lee said. “I was not necessarily surprised, but encouraged by the inclusive environment of the Senate.”

Lee said she thought some male lawmakers would also be very supportive of training. No men have yet signed the letter.

“As fathers, as husbands and more importantly as decent human beings, they care deeply about this,” Lee said.

Lee said she also hoped to see a more transparent and timely way of dealing with complaints about sexual harassment in the Statehouse.

“We’re sparking conversation about ‘What kind of environment do we want to insist we have in the Capitol?’ ” she said.

Other lawmakers to sign the letter included Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome.

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, told the Statesman she hopes to improve discussion and training in the Statehouse about sexual harassment.

Last year, Jordan said, Senate leadership did bring the subject up when training the chamber’s pages, instructing the students on where to go if they have concerns.

“I have not experienced harassment (here),” Jordan said. “But I am always concerned with some people’s perceptions of women in workplace.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, also stressed that minors involved in work at the Capitol, such as the pages, should be educated about their rights and what to do if something happens to them.

She spoke of a need to discourage more subtle forms of harassment.

“(We should) be cautious and thoughtful and mindful of boundaries,” she said. “Physical boundaries are important. Folks come from all kinds of histories and it would behoove us to think forward about that.”

That’s also a concern for Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, along with comments on a person’s body or attractiveness. While Rubel has never faced sexual harassment in the Statehouse, she said she’s has certainly experienced it while working at other jobs.

“If we are to be the leaders in the state, we need to do everything in our power to prevent this from happening,” Rubel said.