Alaska lawmaker takes training after policy vetting pledge
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska state lawmaker said she has relented and taken required training to prevent harassment and discrimination after being assured that an updated legislative policy addressing sexual and other harassment would be vetted by a third-party.
Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole said Thursday that she wants to make sure that whatever new policy is put in place will work and allow for a safe environment. The existing policy has been criticized as too vague.
Wilson said she doesn’t want to find out with the next incident whether the new policy works. “We need to have a pretty good assurance that what we put in place definitely will keep everybody safe here,” she said.
Wilson had refused to attend training with other lawmakers earlier this year in protest over how sexual harassment allegations have been handled.
A legislative working group has drafted a rewrite of the existing policy and said last week that it would seek comments on it from legislative staff and from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For investigations involving a legislator, the draft would allow the Legislature’s human resources manager to hire an independent investigator or for the parties involved to request one through legislative leaders.
Skiff Lobaugh, the human resources manager, told the working group the existing policy is silent on the issue of an outside investigator. He said he has never seen a need to use one but said there could be situation in the future where one might be needed.
The draft also proposes informal and formal reporting processes.
Minority Republicans were critical of how allegations of inappropriate behavior by former Democratic Rep. Dean Westlake were handled last year, though Lobaugh has said House leaders followed existing policies in responding.
A female legislative aide last March sent a letter to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, citing two incidents of “unwelcome physical contact” involving Westlake, including an allegation he grabbed her buttocks. Lobaugh said Edgmon, after receiving the letter, told Westlake his actions were inappropriate and would not be tolerated. Lobaugh said there were no other incidents involving the woman.
But after she went public with her allegations last fall, a newspaper report said other female aides said Westlake acted inappropriately toward them or made them feel uncomfortable.
Westlake resigned in December.