Bill of the Week: House Bill 2859
Chief backers: The Capitol Culture Committee, co-chaired by Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland)
What Problem It Would Solve: An investigative report released in January by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found pervasive sexual harassment in the Capitol, made worse by an inconsistent and ineffective process for reporting and investigating complaints. HB 2859 would work with a companion bill, which sets up an Office of Legislative Equity, to handle harassment complaints.
What the Bill Would Do: Establish a "legal privilege" of confidentiality for both those who report harassment to the proposed Legislative Equity Office and those who are the subject of complaints. In effect, the bill would make the Legislature different from every other workplace in Oregon. Employees who face sexual harassment in every other workplace have the option to file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Complaints filed with BOLI are public records, but complaints to the Legislative Equity Office would not be.
In other words, the bill would protect lawmakers from a repeat of the public embarrassment suffered when then-Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian released his damning findings in January.
Who Supports It: The Capitol Culture Committee, led by Burdick and Williamson, introduced the bill, which emerged from work done by the nonpartisan Oregon Law Commission after last year's harassment scandal in the Capitol. Also, the American Association of University Women, Oregon Chapter.
Who Opposes It: Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), whose complaint of harassment by state Sen. Jeff Kruse led to Kruse's forced resignation, testified against the bill, saying that while confidentiality might protect victims, it would also "protect perpetrators." Gelser was joined in her opposition by three other victims of harassment in the Capitol and a legislative staffer who told of a previous rape—and said HB 2859 would not help victims.