Thursday, November 30, 2017

Harassment in the House

At the beginning of the legislative session in 2017, legislators were handed a copy of the official State House policy on sexual harassment. They were asked to read the policy, and sign a form saying they’d read it. They weren’t asked to surrender their guns, or burn a US flag. They were just asked to read the policy and sign a form saying they’d read it.

This proved to be a bridge too far for some of our doughty legislators. State Rep. John Burt brayed that it was “political correctness gone wrong.” I’ve had some experience with the kinds of things John Burt says to women. I’m not surprised he’s unwilling to sign. The same people who are refusing to sign a paper saying they’d received and read a policy are the same people who will sign any anti-tax or pro-gun pledge you put in front of them.

It will come as no surprise to learn that most of the refuseniks are men. Most of the Free Staters and Libertea types refused to sign, including the women of the Free State Project, Amanda Bouldin, the Free Stater who runs as a Democrat and votes as a Republican was quoted in an early story as saying she felt she was treated with respect. Apparently the remarks made about her nipples by fellow Representatives Josh Moore and Al Baldasaro in 2015 had slipped her mind. A more recent story reports that Bouldin has signed the form.

Representatives JR Hoell and Frank Sapareto voted against making domestic violence a specific crime in NH, and they both refused to sign the form saying they’d read the policy. There were some surprises in the category of those who signed. Free Stater Michael Sylvia, who voted against the domestic violence bill, did sign the form.  Representative Brian Stone was arrested in 2015 for violating a restraining order. The charge was dismissed. Representative Stone did not sign the form indicating he had received and read the official State House policy on sexual harassment.

The entire Libertarian Caucus of the NH House signed the form: Caleb Dyer, Joseph Stallcop, and Brandon Phinney. With grim amusement I note that Rep. Eric Schleien signed off on the policy, even before he was arrested for sexually assaulting a minor.

In Carroll County, all but one State Rep. signed the form stating they’d read the policy. Surprisingly, Free Stater Ed Comeau did sign the form. Not surprisingly, Lino Avellani did not. He was quoted in a November 17 story at WMUR as saying, “I didn’t sign it. If I’m not going to act appropriately, I shouldn’t be there.” Rep. Avellani, it’s worth noting, has a very poor attendance record.

The policy itself is toothless. All policies relating to ethics in the legislature are toothless. Senators and representatives are asked to sign conflict of interest forms, and then may go on to vote on bills that benefit their businesses or investments. It’s a charade.

There have been 10 cases of harassment reported from 2015 – 2017. One involved a male state representative who touched a woman’s leg and told off color jokes, and invaded personal space. These are toothless policies. “The member may be expelled” is hardly a threat, since no one ever is.

In 2004, a State House secretary, Dorothy Pike, sued a legislator and the House for sexual harassment. She sued the House for not protecting her from the advances of then Representative Ron Giordano. Giordano repeatedly groped her, tried to kiss her, and called her at home to threaten her. When Pike brought the issue to the attention of her boss, the complaint was never investigated. Instead they hired a security guard to follow her around, and told Giordano to stop.

The Speaker of the House at the time was Gene Chandler, who claimed they were powerless to discipline Giordano because he was an elected official, not an employee. The jury awarded Pike $175,000 in damages and $130,000 in back pay. The House was ordered to pay 55% and Giordano the balance. Speaker Chandler said that he was disappointed and would appeal the verdict. Imagine how disappointed Dorothy Pike must have been to learn that the men she worked for had so little respect for her. The House finally settled up with Ms. Pike in 2005. As of that time, Giordano hadn’t paid a dime. After the trial, Chandler filed legislation to create a sexual harassment policy aimed at covering legislators.

It looks as if Chandler will be Speaker again in 2018. The GOP caucus decided against supporting two of the candidates whom, despite multiple terms in office, are unable to correctly frame a parliamentary inquiry. One hopes he keeps his copy of the harassment policy handy. In the era of Trump, it’s likely to get a workout.

This was published as an op-ed in the December 1 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 


Dan Hynes said...

I see you are against the 1st amendment as usual. I will not sign the policy and give up my 1st amendment rights. The policy is a joke. One democrat who signed it calls other legislators fuckers when they don't vote the way she likes. And another State rep calls members of the GOP #pussygrabber. They create a hostile work environment but I don't go crying to the ethics committee about it since they can say whatever dumb things they want.
Dan Hynes

susanthe said...

I'm sad that an attorney has so little understanding of that First Amendment. Here's the thing, Dan - you're within your rights not to sign it. But I'm within my rights to point out that you haven't. What's funny, though, is that I didn't mention you at all, though I knew you hadn't signed it.

Tell me, is having to deal with women serving in the legislature your definition of a hostile work environment?

Timothy Horrigan said...

Brian Stone may not have ever been convicted of any crime... but you know has been convicted? Dan Hynes, that's who. He was convicted of extortion in 2008 after as many as 18 instances where he sent letters to hair salons demanding $500 to $1000 in exchange for his not filing complaints with the state commission for human rights. These salons all charged higher prices for woman's haircuts than men's. Hynes was busted by a state police woman who went underground and pretended to be the co-owner of a salon in Concord. I don't think he served time, but his law license was suspended for more than a year.

nelle said...

Dan Hynes,

We state employees must sign off on such things, and with good reason. It should be an expectation. It has zero to do with 1st Amendment rights. Take a look at RSA 354-A, put in place by the legislative workings of this state. You get to dodge by way of not technically being an employee... but making excuses for why you won't voluntarily sign off are in poor taste, and in fact reflect poorly on your choices.

Dan Hynes said...

I agree you are well within your rights to report it and I have no problem with my name being known for not signing it. Dealing with women and men in the legislature does not in itself create a hostile environment. Certain reps using certain words may appear hostile to some but I expect people could also say that about things I have said. The policy should be more narrowly tailored and not include things which people have been reported for such as asking someone out or sending a friend request through social media.

Dan Hynes said...

You left out the conviction was annulled. Giving you the benefit of the doubt in not knowing I expect future comments will reflect that per our present annulment law.

Dan Hynes said...

There is already a harassment law that applies to legislators. I will follow that law within 1st amendment requirements. Not some arbitrary policy some unaccountable person created without legal authority.

Timothy Horrigan said...

I am not surprised that the criminal conviction was annulled. We usually do here in NH for nonviolent offenders who aren't career criminals and who stay out of trouble after their conviction. But the suspension of your law license is still a matter of public record, as are the reasons for it. The only reason I brought it up is because you were moralizing about Rep, Frost's #fuckers tweet.