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State Senate finally updates its sexual harassment policy

We’d been waiting.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The Texas Senate has adopted a new sexual harassment policy that mandates in-person anti-sexual harassment training for senators and offers more details on specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The Senate’s policy, which was sent out to Senate staffers on Wednesday, was expanded from a one-page document to a more extensive set of guidelines that provide detailed examples of what constitutes sexual harassment and more thoroughly explain the ways victims can get help through internal and external complaint processes.

The revisions come months after the The Texas Tribune detailed a wide range of harassment in state politics and the scant protections offered to victims through the chambers’ policies, and after The Daily Beast detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature. Those accounts included specific allegations against Democratic state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. Both have denied the allegations.

Like in the House — where lawmakers revised the chamber’s policy in December — the Senate’s training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune.

In a letter to her colleagues obtained by the Tribune, Senate Administration Chair Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, indicated a list of lawmakers who have completed the training would be available to the public. But the chamber’s policy does not appear to set any sort of immediate deadline for current elected officials.

Instead, the revised policy indicates that in-person training will be offered every two years and that new employees must complete an online training within the first 30 days of their employment.

The policy was also revised to specifically state that senators will not be involved in investigating other senators, leaving investigations to the chamber’s human resources director and “impartial attorneys.”

But questions remain about how senators, who ultimately answer to voters back home, could be disciplined if they are found to have sexually harassed someone.

The Senate had a hearing on this back in December, to give you some idea of the time frame. The House had made some alterations to its policy a few days before that, and then rolled out a training video in January. A House workgroup was convened in mid-May to do some more stuff, though at this point I have no idea what to expect. It’s easy to make fun of all this, but it’s hard for me to say what a sufficient policy looks like. I’ve been asking every candidate I interview about sexual harassment policies, and for the most part I get responses that include things like better transparency, fuller protections for people who report harassment, and of course not using government funds to pay off harassment claims, in the manner of Blake Farenthold. Is that enough? I honestly don’t know, and as someone who has been lucky enough to have never experienced any harassment, I’m not really the right person to judge. I will note that Annie’s List put out a statement complaining about the lack of guidelines on disciplinary action for offenders, including – and one must admit this gets thorny – officeholders. The House is still working on this, and maybe the Senate will be as well, so there’s still a chance to make progress. From where I sit, there’s still a lot to be made.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    It’s really sad that Texas needs to waste taxpayers money on this kind of thing, and if I was a legislator, I’d be offended at being forced to waste my time being “trained.” The correct approach to all of this should be to end the practice of using the taxpayers’ money to settle harassment lawsuits and claims. The whole ‘pound me too’ phenomenon should have taught everyone the new playing field, and that is, you’ve got to play defense, and look at coworkers as a potential threat…..not only should people do nothing wrong, but they should be vigilant about doing or saying anything that could be potentially twisted to be construed as something untoward.

    Seems like Mike Pence doesn’t look so fringe now, amirite y’all?