Legislature revisits anti-sexual harassment policies as some employees report problems

 The Alaska State Capitol
The Alaska State Capitol (KTUU)
Published: Nov. 21, 2017 at 5:32 PM AKST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Some employees of the Alaska state Legislature say sexual harassment is an ongoing problem at the Capitol and that they do not feel comfortable reporting the behavior, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, said Tuesday.

“I have heard from female staff that there is a pervasive sexual harassment problem in the Legislature which prevents them from feeling safe, respected and professional,” Spohnholz said.

The comments, in a phone interview with Channel 2, came amid a daylong meeting of the Legislative Council in Juneau. Legislators there were poised to create a working group to examine policies for reporting and investigating sexual harassment claims.

The agenda for the bipartisan council included creation of the working group. The council spent much of the day meeting behind closed doors in executive session.

Spohnholz said she could not talk about what was discussed during the session.

“If there’s one thing we’ve seen today with the leg council meeting is that the Legislature doesn’t do transparent very well,” she said. “And it doesn’t do fair very well. And I think that’s the challenge before us.”

Spohnholz declined to discuss details of alleged sexual harassment at the Legislature, saying she preferred to allow the council to create a process for properly handling complaints.

Former state Sen. Suzanne Little, whose staff member was harassed in the 1990s by former state Sen. George Jacko, said sexual harassment complaints should be investigated by an independent third party, not by legislators.

In the case of Jacko, she said, the senator held a linchpin seat in the Senate majority and, in her view, lawmakers were hesitant to remove him from that position despite the harassment claims.