Harassment is a problem in Harrisburg, Capitol staffers say, and bills to fix it in the works

Choirs have been filling the state Capitol with the sounds of the season at lunchtime through the Christmas Season.

One lawmaker has just the gift she’d like to deliver to fellow females in the building.

“The problem is we have a culture right now in this Capitol that does not support and protect women and we need to change that,” said Representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-Delaware).

Braneky will introduce the #MeToo bill next week. It would name names if a lawmaker is found to have harassed or assaulted a woman. It would also ban taxpayer funded payoffs to victims. The process is mostly shrouded in secrecy but House Democrats admit to making two harassment-related payouts in the past ten years. Information from the other caucuses and the governor’s office is still pending answers from Right to Know requests.

“There is a history in this building of taxpayer money being used to settle these cases quietly without the name of the member being disclosed,” Braneky said.

There is bipartisan support for Braneky’s bill.

“I have two teenaged daughters so I want to make sure they’re protected and never put in a position where they’re forced to do something in the workplace,” said Representative Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland) who has agreed to be a co-sponsor.

“We need to punish whoever the bad actors are and frankly we should not be spending taxpayer money to correct anybody’s actions,” Rothman said.

Sarah Speed is a 30-something chief-of-staff and former lobbyist who says she’s had to deal with her share of inappropriateness on the job. She now counsels young female colleagues on who to avoid and how to act. She tells them to visit certain members “with a buddy” so they’re not alone.

“That’s always the perception that we women have to battle with, right? We have to be twice as good at what we do in order to get half the level of respect because the assumption is always if you’re attractive then you’re using it,” Speed said.

Harassment happens here is Braneky’s message.

Her #MeToo bill started with a Facebook post in which she shared a personal story of being harassed by a college professor when she was a young student. That prompted Capitol confidantes to come forward

“The bottom line is: it’s absolutely happening. I had heard rumors before but after I shared my own #metoo story I’ve had a number of women come to me and share theirs.”

That Speed has to caution colleagues about how to deal with unwanted advances and strategies to prevent them in the first place speaks volumes, she says

“We probably have a problem here in Pennsylvnaia and we could probably do a little better making sure the workplace is a workplace and anything that should not be happening isn’t,” Speed said.



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