Posted on March 15, 2018
By Chris Cassidy in the Boston Herald
No one testified yesterday during a Beacon Hill hearing focused on creating an independent commission to probe sexual harassment and assault allegations at the State House — a sign that lawmakers and others still fear retribution from powerful pols for speaking out, the bill’s sponsor said.
“The fact there weren’t many people — perhaps no people — to testify speaks to the fact that there is still a fear in the State House for people testifying on sexual harassment, assault and accountability,” state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) told the Herald. “That speaks to the need for an independent commission bill I filed, so that when people are sexually harassed or assaulted at the State House, they have a place to go where the complaint will be kept confidential.”
The bill’s hearing before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight lasted less than 10 seconds when no one came forward to testify on either side. Eldridge and state Sen. Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover), the lead co-sponsor, said they both missed the hearing to attend gun control events related to school walkouts.
Eldridge’s bill, which was filed late in the session, would set up a nine-person commission — with members appointed by various state officials and including a sexual assault counsellor and social worker — to investigate workplace harassment claims within the General Court, and even to conduct an annual survey of employees and interns.
Eldridge said just finding co-sponsors for the bill has been a challenge, mentioning one lawmaker who voiced support for it, but didn’t feel comfortable attaching their name to the measure.
“There’s a feeling that that would somehow diminish the opinion of that legislator by the House speaker or the Senate president, and it doesn’t mean that will happen, it’s just the perception,” Eldridge said. “It’s the sense that that could create a problem for that legislator getting things passed and they’re not willing to co-sponsor a bill. It’s a microcosm of power being too centralized.”
L’Italien said there’s already a fear of participating in the Senate’s ongoing probe into former Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg’s now-separated husband, Bryon Hefner.
“I know the feeling in the building is that there are people who continue to be concerned for their job security,” she said. “There are people who have been afraid to come forward and participate in that.”
The House is expected to take up its own anti-sexual harassment plan today, which would allow for the hiring of a new director of human resources, an equal employment opportunity officer, and a director of employee engagement to field workplace complaints.
The Senate has created a special committee, led by state Sen. Joan Lovely, to review its sexual harassment policies and make recommendations May 15.
In a statement, Senate President Harriette Chandler said, “The Senate has a responsibility to its members, its employees, and to all those who do business here to ensure that all are given the fullest protections from workplace sexual harassment.”