A new law to increase the independence of investigations into legislative ethics complaints was signed into law this week. The new law will make significant reforms to the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Office of the Legislative Inspector General, changing the process so those who come forward with ethics complaints have the assurance their concerns will receive timely and transparent review.
As a result, individuals who have been subject to sexual harassment will have greater confidence that the investigatory process is not controlled by the same individuals being investigated. Supporters say the law will ensure victims don’t harbor fear that bringing forth claims will have professional or personal consequences.
Notably, the changes advanced in House Bill 138 call for an independent search committee to determine candidates for the Legislative Inspector General role, with members of the committee to be composed of retired judges or former prosecutors. Additionally, the measure offers the option of hiring a full-time Legislative Inspector General, which until now has been a part-time position. A full-time LIG will increase accessibility and guarantee an LIG is available to quickly vet and act on all complaints filed with the office.
The legislation will also allow the Legislative Inspector General to begin an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment without first receiving approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission. However, at each Legislative Ethics Commission meeting, the LIG will inform the Commission of each investigation opened that involves allegations of sexual harassment.
Additionally, the proposal requires enhanced reporting regarding the types of matters brought to both the Executive and Legislative Inspector Generals, as well as enhanced reporting by the Legislative Ethics Commission regarding the number of cases where the Legislative Ethics Commission does not publish reports and situations when the Legislative Ethics Commission refuses to allow an Inspector General to proceed with a complaint.
House Bill 138 also identifies appropriate processes for Legislative Ethics Commission members to recuse themselves; authorizes the sharing of information about complaints and the investigation process with complainants; improves transparency with regard to allegations and investigations by violation category; and allows for the Legislative Ethics Commission to develop training on topics pertaining to sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace civility, which may be approved to meet the sexual harassment training requirement.
Moreover, the bill addresses concerns with regard to the Executive Ethics Commission, authorizing the Executive Inspector General to develop and post online information about the complaint and investigation process, as well as identifying legal limitations on their ability to share information with a complainant or subject of an investigation. Tackling issues of harassment inside the Statehouse, the legislation will also allow the Secretary of State Inspector General to enforce the prohibition on sexual harassment that is applicable to lobbyists, and provides for suspension or revocation of lobbyist registration for a sexual harassment violation.