La. government lacks statewide sexual misconduct policy
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana doesn’t have a government-wide policy for handling sexual misconduct allegations or requiring anti-harassment training, instead allowing agencies to cobble together their own standards, the state’s civil service director said Friday.
Byron Decoteau said his department offers a web-based training course to government agencies and public colleges, but he told female lawmakers seeking to bolster efforts to combat sexual harassment that he can’t force them to use it.
“So they may not even have a plan?” said Sen. Beth Mizell, a Franklinton Republican, one of a handful of lawmakers who attended the hearing.
Decoteau said a majority of agencies have established their own internal policies against sexual harassment and for reporting and investigating complaints.
The Department of Civil Service training course came in response to a legislative resolution passed in 2012 that directs “each public agency to provide in-service education and training on sexual harassment to its public employees.” But such a resolution doesn’t carry the weight of state law, so it’s not clear that everyone complies with the requirement.
At least 60 percent of state government and college employees take the civil service department’s anti-sexual harassment training on average each year, according to Dana LeBherz, training director for the agency.
Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat spearheading the legislative review, said she’s concerned about lack of policy uniformity and had questions about who is taking the course. She said lawmakers should look at strengthening policies in the regular legislative session that begins in mid-March.
“We seem like we have a lot of improvement to do,” she said. “What concerns me is there seems to be no continuity in terms of how it’s administered and how it’s tracked.”
The review of existing state policies comes after sexual misconduct accusations across the nation have unseated people in positions of power in Hollywood, the media and government.
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ deputy chief of staff stepped down in November amid such claims. A review of records found the state has paid at least $2.6 million since 2004 to settle nearly four dozen sexual harassment claims, such as allegations made against college professors, judges, health care workers and one former state lawmaker.
The money was paid through Louisiana’s self-insurance program, the Office of Risk Management, and the data was provided to The Associated Press and other media outlets in response to a records request. The list of payments doesn’t include details of the conduct alleged, the person making the allegations or what if anything was proved.
And the data isn’t comprehensive, because it doesn’t cover any settlements or judgments paid by individual agencies or college campuses outside of the state-run insurance program.
The resignation of Edwards’ deputy chief of staff Johnny Anderson and the broader national conversation about sexual misconduct have spurred multiple reviews of Louisiana’s policies for handling claims. Edwards has created a seven-member study group to make recommendations by March 1. Louisiana’s legislative auditor is conducting his own review.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte