House Speaker Bryce Edgmon issued the following statement on Dec. 6 following allegations of sexual harassment in the Alaska Legislature:
“This is a confidential personnel issue and I am not able to comment on details of the incident or the complaint. The incident illustrates the need for concrete and clear reporting policies and mandatory sexual harassment training for every legislator and staff member,” said House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham). “Unwanted sexual advances and other forms of harassment are unacceptable and hinder the work of the Alaska Legislature to do the people’s business. Any victim who comes forward must be respected and should know their concerns will be heard, investigated, and addressed with fairness and transparency. Our priority is to ensure a safe and respectful work environment where no one feels threatened. We strongly encourage anyone who has been subjected to sexual harassment, assault, or aggravation in or related to their place of work to come forward. We want them to feel confident that their personnel matters will remain confidential and private, and that the Legislature will listen and follow through.”
Six members of the Alaska House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate have been appointed to a special subcommittee that will review the legislature’s harassment policies and make recommendations to the joint Alaska Legislative Council before the start of the Second Session of the 30th Alaska State Legislature in January.
In addition to a new policy on sexual and other forms of harassment, the Alaska Legislature is imposing required sexual harassment training for all lawmakers and staff. The training will be conducted by expert trainers with the Alaska Human Rights Commission during the first week of the legislative session that begins on January 16th. The training is mandatory for all members of the House and Senate and their staff.
Edgmon’s statement came following this Must Read Alaska story earlier in the day:
POLICY IS ALREADY ON THE BOOKS
Sending the matter to a subcommittee is a predictable move, as legislators send all their work through committees. But suggesting that the Legislature needs a harassment policy, as mentioned by Edgmon in his statement, is a case of misdirection since there is already a harassment policy on the books.
In fact, Alaska statute covers harassment as a criminal matter:
AS 11.61.120. Harassment in the Second Degree.
(a) A person commits the crime of harassment in the second degree if, with intent to harass or annoy another person, that person
(1) insults, taunts, or challenges another person in a manner likely to provoke an immediate violent response;
(2) telephones another and fails to terminate the connection with intent to impair the ability of that person to place or receive telephone calls;
(3) makes repeated telephone calls at extremely inconvenient hours;
(4) makes an anonymous or obscene telephone call, an obscene electronic communication, or a telephone call or electronic communication that threatens physical injury or sexual contact; or
(5) subjects another person to offensive physical contact.
(6) publishes or distributes electronic or printed photographs, pictures, or films that show the genitals, anus, or female breast of the other person or show that person engaged in a sexual act.
(b) Harassment in the second degree is a class B misdemeanor.
It’s a matter of enforcement of the existing policy, and the actual existing laws on harassment.
Who is the chief enforcer on policy in the House? The Speaker of the House.
The subcommittee needs to determine what Edgmon knew and when he knew it. Will the subcommittee have the courage to bring the House Speaker in for questioning?
CONFIDENTIAL MATTER TO BE HANDLED WITH TRANSPARENCY
Edgmon describes the complaint as confidential, personnel-related, and says it will be “heard, investigated, and addressed with fairness and transparency.” However, the complainant has already gone public with her complaint and is no longer an employee of the Alaska Legislature. It is unclear how it can be handled confidentially and transparently, when the Speaker’s actions and the House Majority Leader’s actions or lack of action are a critical component of the incident.
As the incidents described in the legislative aide’s complaints occurred on city property and on private property in Juneau, the matter should be referred to law enforcement, not just a subcommittee of the Legislature.