, ,

State Assembly Leaders Stand By Sexual Harassment Policies

Vos, Hintz: Complaints Shouldn't Be Released To Protect People's Privacy

Wisconsin State Capitol
Photo Phiend (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Leaders of the Wisconsin State Assembly said Tuesday they won’t make any changes to the Legislature’s sexual harassment reporting and disciplinary policies in light of recent nationwide attention on sexual impropriety by politicians.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said policies will stay the same, but lawmakers and staff will now be required to complete a training on sexual harassment at the beginning of every legislative session.

“We want to make sure people feel comfortable bringing forward any accusation and knowing it will be dealt with severely and swiftly if it’s true,” Vos said Tuesday.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Legislature will continue its policy of refusing to publicly release information about sexual harassment complaints, which various news outlets have attempted to obtain.

Free speech advocates have pushed back on the policy, saying the public has a right to know about allegations and have assurance that claims are handled effectively.

“It sure looks as though the Legislature is trying to cover up indications of official misconduct,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. “The public should have zero confidence that the Legislature, alone among segments of our society, from the business world to Fox News to Hollywood, has handled allegations of sexual harassment properly.”

Hintz and Vos argued the policy protects the privacy of victims — and individuals who may have been wrongfully accused.

“Our policy first has been to protect those who could be most impacted by the release of that information, especially in cases where I think a lot of the information is out there,” Hintz said.

Any harassment claims resulting in criminal charges would be made public.

In 2014, former Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer was found guilty of harassing staff. After allegations were made public, lawmakers stripped Kramer of his leadership role and asked him to resign. He ultimately served the rest of his term in the Legislature, but did not run for re-election.

Vos and Hintz said there have been no recent allegations of sexual harassment by lawmakers or staff.

“We have been very lucky that in the Assembly we have been a really good workplace, we have had very few incidents, at least since I’ve become involved, of any kind of harassment, and we want to keep it that way,” Vos said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:05 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, to include original reporting from WPR.