SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan asked legislators on Tuesday to stay "strictly professional" to avoid sexual harassment situations or he will take care of it, as other House members considered ways to reduce harassment in the Capitol.
"I want to be crystal clear — it is inappropriate for members to make sexual comments or sexual advances to, or engage in sexual relationships with, staff, whether that person is employed directly by you, the Office of the Speaker, or another caucus," Madigan, D-Chicago, said in a statement delivered to his caucus. "This applies to both male and female legislators. It is clear from my discussions that staff view you as their superiors or supervisors, and with that you are in positions of power over them. This dynamic is ripe for potential harassment. I expect each of you to treat staff with respect and keep your relationships strictly professional.
"If I become aware of any complaints against a member by staff, or another member, I will personally get involved to put an end to it."
Meanwhile, the House's sexual harassment task force Tuesday discussed a draft of a bill authored by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, and the committee's minority spokesperson Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, to reform state ethics and human rights law with new regulations in an attempt to decrease instances of sexual harassment and allow for a better pathway to justice for victims.
The proposals include extending the period for reporting after a rights violation from 180 days to one year, allowing anonymous reporting and creating an investigator position in more government offices.
Lobbyists and legislators debated parts of the draft, including the statute of limitation clause. As written, it would cover more than just sexual harassment allegations, a concern for an already overstretched complaint system at the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission, according to Jay Shattuck, a lobbyist for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
"There is a tremendous backlog ... that is unfortunately detrimental ... to the individuals who have been discriminated against but certainly employers who are stuck in the process for as many as six, seven years before there's a resolution of a human rights act charge," he said. "We think we need to address the backlog as well."
Currie disagreed that only sexual harassment complaints should be included in the clause. While sexual harassment poses a uniquely difficult situation for victims coming forward, other complaints can be just as difficult, such as reporting wage discrimination.
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said it might be a good idea to consolidate the reporting system, calling the current one complicated, citing recommendations from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"NCSL put out something that said the top five risk factors for workplaces with specific issues with sexual harassment are places where there are powerful positions, a young workforce, that are male dominated, that's leadership heavy and where alcohol can be consumed within the workplace. If there is anything that describes, it would be Illinois government," she said. "So it makes sense to me their recommendations where you create clear systems, have a third party focus with strong accountability."
She added a consolidated system could be easier to fund compared to multiple inspectors.
Jimenez said Bourne's proposal warranted further study but was concerned about constitutional challenges.
The proposals come after a number of allegations of sexual harassment within state government, including state Sen. Ira Silverstein being accused of acting inappropriately toward a lobbyist and a Madigan campaign worker allegedly harassing a staff member.