Ethics Code/Sexual Harassment (Watch)

Ethics Code/Sexual Harassment (Watch)

CS/SB 1628 (Book) and HB 1233 (Jacobs) establish a definition for "sexual harassment" and amend the state Code of Ethics to prohibit public officers, employees and lobbyists from sexually harassing any person. The bills create the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Task Force to examine best practices to prevent sexual misconduct in government settings, provide for appointment and composition of the task force, and direct the task force to provide periodic reports to the Legislature. CS/SB 1628 was substantially amended to impose new legal duties, standards, enforcement and penalties applicable to state and local public officers and employees, state and local government lobbyists, and private individuals, relating to sexual harassment. As amended, the bill prohibits public officers, candidates, public employees and lobbyists from sexually harassing any person or retaliating against any person who files a complaint with the Commission on Ethics alleging a violation of the provisions relating to sexual harassment, sexual favors or sexual conduct. The amended bill prohibits individuals from recklessly or intentionally disclosing identifying information about persons alleging a violation, and imposes an affirmative duty upon any individual with personal knowledge of alleged violations of the provisions relating to sexual harassment, sexual favors, or sexual conduct to report the conduct to the Commission on Ethics or to the appropriate agency designee within 10 business days. An individual is prohibited from knowingly or recklessly filing a false complaint. Alleged victims of violations are entitled to have a victim advocate and an attorney present in Commission on Ethics proceedings. The amended bill revises existing Code of Ethics provisions on Solicitation and Acceptance of Gifts and Misuse of Public Position to include “sexual favors” and “sexual conduct” within the scope of these provisions. The amended bill increases potential civil penalties that may be applied by the commission if violations of the sexual harassment, sexual favors, and sexual conduct provisions are found (at least $5,000 per violation up to a maximum of $10,000 per violation). In addition, if the commission finds in favor of a complainant, a violator is liable for any costs associated with the services of a victim advocate and for reasonable attorney fees incurred by the victim.  In addition to these penalties, a lobbyist found in violation of these provisions may be temporarily or permanently prohibited from lobbying. Please refer to the bill summary for HB 7007 for additional House proposals on sexual harassment and the state Code of Ethics. (O’Hara)