It used to be that sexual harassment complaints involving state senators or reprsentatives in Minnesota rarely reached public knowledge - or public scrutiny. And no, this wasn't only during the "Mad Men" days of workplace intolerance and double standards from eons past. Minnesota's outdated laws and practices with regard to workplace conduct and our elected state leaders were making headlines just about a year and a half ago.
They were back in the news last week - but with a bit of progress to report this time.
After nearly three decades, the Minnesota Senate updated its sexual harassment policy, the St. Paul Pioneer Press said Thursday. This came a year after the Minnesota House updated its own. And both came after well-publicized and appropriately condemned incidents of sexual propositions, lewd messages, groping, and more involving elected state leaders.
The Senate's new policy takes effect immediately. Both the Senate and House policies allow human resources officials to hire outside investigators, and now those lodging complaints and those accused both will be informed of the investigative outcomes.
While the policies don't automatically make records public, a focus of news coverage and criticism in late 2017, they do allow some to be made public if the accuser or the accused decides to. And human-resources directors now are required to submit annual reports on the numbers of complaints and investigations and any amount spent for outside investigations. So that is some progress on the transparency front.
In addition, all senators and staff are now required to attend training every two years, compared with every five years under the old policy. That policy was detailed in a pamphlet that was so outdated it directed complaints to offices that don't even exist anymore.
In D.C., even more progress was needed. As a Chicago Tribune editorial pointed out in December 2017, if you were a victim of sexual harassment and you worked for Congress, there was no human resources department to go to to complain. And you couldn't file a lawsuit without first going through months of mandatory mediation and counseling. Yes, when an allegation involved Congress, the victim was the one who had to go to counseling before being able to take action, as a News Tribune editorial opined. That was the process under the "laughably named," as the Chicago Tribune called it, Congressional Accountability Act.
Worse, taxpayer money is used to pay settlements to victims at the federal level - and almost always without any of us knowing anything about it. Between 1997 and 2017, we taxpayers shelled out $15.2 million.
It's all so wrong. But at least here in the Gopher State a bit of progress has now been reported, even if it seems to be coming far too slowly.