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11/12/2018 Rep. Blazejewski to prefile legislation establishing General Assembly equal employment opportunity officer and Special Committee on Professional Conduct
STATE HOUSE– Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) plans to prefile
legislation ahead of the 2019 legislative session that would reform the General Assembly’s
policies and procedure relating to sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment by
establishing an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer and Special Committee on
Professional Conduct with broad investigatory and disciplinary powers.
 
The proposed legislation is based on rule changes made this year by the
Massachusetts House of Representatives after it engaged outside attorneys, including former
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, to conduct listening sessions with victims,
members, and staff and make recommendations for an overhaul of its procedures relating to
sexual harassment and discrimination.

“It is critical that the General Assembly reform its policies and procedures relating to
sexual harassment, discriminatory harassment, and related retaliation. The legislature must
ensure that all people appearing in its chambers and before its committees – members, staff,
and the public – are protected from harassment and have a safe, respectful space to engage in
the political process and advocate for their legislation.”

As a matter of policy, the proposed legislation would affirm the General Assembly’s
commitment to creating and maintaining a work environment in which all members,
employees, and the public are treated with respect and free from any form of harassment,
including harassment based on an individual's membership in any protected class, and
affirming that the General Assembly will not tolerate harassment of any kind.

In enforcing this policy, the legislation would require the General Assembly to
appoint an independent Equal Employment Opportunity Officer charged with investigating any complaint against a General Assembly member or staff member alleging sexual
harassment, discriminatory harassment, or retaliation. The EEO Officer would maintain
independence by being appointed for a period for four years, with removal for cause only.
 
The EEO officer would review complaints alleging sexual harassment, discriminatory
harassment, or retaliation based on an individual's race, religion, national origin, sex,
ancestry, sexual orientation, age, disability status, genetic information, gender identity, active
military personnel status, transgender status, or membership in any other protected class. If
the EEO officer deems the complaint plausible, the officer will investigate the allegations
confidentially and make a confidential recommendation for discipline within 90 days.

In the case of a General Assembly member, subsequent to the EEO officer’s
investigation and recommendation, the member may request a confidential review of the
EEO recommendation by a bi-partisan Special Committee on Professional Conduct,
consisting of seven House or Senate members, as appropriate, with membership apportioned
in a way that takes into account the nature of the complaint and the commitment of the
General Assembly to providing fair and equal opportunity in employment. The Special
Committee on Professional Conduct would be empowered to recommend private or public
discipline, including reprimand, censure, removal from position as a chair or other position of
authority, or expulsion, which would then be put before the House or Senate, as appropriate,
for action consistent with the requirements of House or Senate Rules and the Rhode Island
Constitution. The process and records would be confidential, including with respect to the
identity of the complainant, and recommendations would remain confidential unless the
General Assembly member faces a recommendation of public discipline. For a staff
member, disciplinary action would be taken by the EEO officer in conjunction with the Joint
Committee on Legislative Services and the person’s supervisor.

The proposed legislation would also provide for in-person sexual harassment training
for members, staff, and interns, including topics such as General Assembly equal
employment policies, the complaint and investigation process, workplace harassment and
discriminatory conduct, prohibition on retaliation, professionalism and respect, and practices
for monitoring the workplace for issues and identifying risk factors.

“In reforming our policies and procedures relating to harassment, we should look to
other states in evaluating best practices. We should also be open to considering other
potential approaches, including referring complaints to the Attorney General’s Office, the
Human Rights Commission, or the Ethics Commission, so long as the policy adopted by the
legislature achieves the goal of protecting victims and providing for an independent
investigatory and review process,” said Representative Blazejewski. “The legislature should address
this important issue by listening to victims, members, and the public, and analyzing best
practices from across the country.”


For more information, contact:
Larry Berman, Communications Director for the Office of the Speaker
State House Room 331A
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2466