Commentary

Insider’s Colin Campbell: Hall case shows need for reform at General Assembly

Colin Campbell, editor of the Insider Government News Service, has an important and insightful column in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning about the need for reform at the General Assembly when it comes to sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers. The column comes, of course, in the aftermath of last week’s NC Policy Watch reports on the alleged behavior of Rep. Duane Hall. (Click here for more details on those stories and my refutation of Rep. Hall’s erroneous and absurd claim that Policy Watch was biased in its reporting.)

Campbell accurately points out that the General Assembly is “ill-equipped” to handle such complaints:

“Aside from going to the media, victims of sexual harassment at the legislature have few options. Legislative staffers can go through a multi-step internal complaint process that involves reporting the incident to a supervisor, but many employees are supervised directly by the legislators they serve.

Lobbyists and others who want to report inappropriate behavior by a lawmaker must file a formal complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission. That commission consists of state legislators who might be friends with the accused lawmaker. And the complaints can’t be filed anonymously.

Not surprisingly, that committee has heard fewer than a dozen complaints in recent years, according to the Insider report, and it’s unclear how many of those involved inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Campbell then goes on to discuss the fact that a training program for lawmakers and legislative staffers appears to be in the offing and that it is badly needed in light of Rep. Hall’s attempt to claim that he never harassed women even as he admitted to “inappropriately kissing” a woman at a 2016 event:

“Hall’s comments indicate that training is very much needed. ‘I think harassment is when they say no and you continue,’ he told the N&O columnist. So by that standard, it would fine to touch someone or make lewd comments about their body as long as you stop when they protest.

That, of course, isn’t the definition of sexual harassment. Merriam-Webster defines the term as ‘uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate.’”

He concludes by observing that planned changes aren’t a complete solution, but that they are a start. As he notes:
“And the fact that state leaders have taken the Hall allegations seriously is a sign we’re headed in the right direction.”
Let’s hope he’s right.

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