A report delivered to the Oregon legislative leaders last week puts the Legislature on notice that changes are needed to protect lawmakers and staff from sexual harassment. The leadership should take the report’s findings seriously — especially its declaration that the Capitol culture must change or policy initiatives will not be effective.
Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek asked the Oregon Law Commission last April to look into the Legislature’s harassment policies after allegations surfaced about Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who was accused of groping women lawmakers. Kruse resigned in February.
State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian filed a complaint in August accusing Courtney and Kotek, in particular, of not doing enough to respond to the allegations against Kruse. The resulting investigation by the Bureau of Labor and Industries is still underway.
The report makes several recommendations, including creating an Equity Office that would operate independently but report to a joint bipartisan committee. The office would conduct investigations, write reports and perform training. Other recommendations include strengthening the definition of harassment and improving the reporting process.
Lawmakers will consider those recommendations during the legislative session that starts next month.
While Courtney praised the commission’s work, he and Kotek have been less than forthcoming about the Legislature’s track record on harassment complaints. A court last month ordered them to turn over documents subpoenaed by Avakian.
Lawmakers should take the report to heart — especially the recommendation to change the culture of the Capitol. That will take more effort than enacting policy changes.