Most of Arkansas House attends first harassment training
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — All but a dozen Arkansas House members attended voluntary courses on sexual harassment this week that legislative leaders offered in response to a wave of high-profile misconduct cases nationwide.
Eighty-seven of the House’s 99 members attended a course that was offered throughout the day on Wednesday, according to sign-in sheets released by the chamber. A spokeswoman for the House said the other 12 members of the chamber are scheduled to attend a make-up course being offered next week.
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said he believed the turnout showed that members would attend training without it being mandatory.
“I think based on the turnout we had today, it’s proving members are going to respond to any kind of training that will help them be better at their jobs,” Gillam said. “I think we’re still in a good area with making a voluntary option. Now if it had only been 20, I might feel differently about it.”
A 50-state review by The Associated Press last month found that about a third of state legislative chambers across the country do not require lawmakers to participate in sexual harassment training. The Arkansas House paid $2,500 to Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C. to conduct the training sessions during the abbreviated “fiscal” session that began this week. Gillam said he hoped the training would be added to the orientation House members receive before each regular session.
The roughly 90-minute session detailed the House policy on sexual harassment and examples of what would be considered sexual harassment, according to a copy of the training materials released by the House. Members said the training also included details on how to report sexual harassment and how complaints are investigated.
“It didn’t make us fearful, it just made us remember to be respectful of each other,” Republican Rep. Charlotte Douglas, who attended the session.
Democratic Rep. David Whitaker said the training underscored that lawmakers need to be proactive in preventing and reporting any harassment.
“The last thing we need is to have an employee who has to worry about going into the workplace on a daily basis,” Whitaker said.
Several lawmakers who didn’t attend cited illness, family emergencies or scheduling conflicts and said they’d go next week. Republican Rep. Joe Farrer, who missed Wednesday’s class because he was working at his physical therapy clinic, said he was unlikely to go to next week’s session.
“I’m 56 years old. I know what sexual harassment is,” said Farrer, who said he’s received harassment training over the years during his work as a hospital administrator.
The House in December declined to release details about a harassment complaint involving a lawmaker after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said a document related to the allegation doesn’t have to be released to the public because it didn’t result in anyone’s suspension or termination. Gillam sought the attorney general’s opinion in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press for any records related to sexual harassment or misconduct complaints made against lawmakers since 2008.
The Senate is not offering similar training to its members, but Senate President Jonathan Dismang it would likely be included in the orientation for members before next year’s session begins.
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