HARRISBURG — The General Assembly adjourned for the final time this session without any meaningful movement on #MeToo legislation, despite the fact that several of the body’s own members have faced accusations of sexual misconduct.
In the wake of those scandals, leadership on both sides of the aisle will remain largely unchanged.
There were no votes on a package of bills offered by Democrats that would offer greater sexual harassment protections and accountability in state government. The legislation, which was offered in both the House and Senate, would ban non-disclosure agreements that hide the names of accused lawmakers and forbid the use of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials.
While the Republican chair of the Labor and Industry Committee, Rep. Rob Kauffman, initially supported the House bill, he withdrew his support after accusing Democrat Leanne Krueger-Braneky of politicizing the issue. Kauffman refused to allow Krueger-Braneky to respond to the accusation during a committee hearing.
Other bills in the Democrats’ package would:
- Extend Pennsylvania Human Relations Act workplace protections to businesses with fewer than four employees
- Extend protections to interns at workplaces across the state
- Update Employment Fair Practices notices to include examples of sexual harassment
What did pass was a Republican-introduced resolution directing the bipartisan Joint State Government Commission to study sexual misconduct in state government.
Another House resolution that would establish the Task Force on Harassment and Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace also passed, but still needs Senate approval.
A session of scandals
Since 2007, the House Democratic Caucus has paid out $514,000 to settle claims including two against lawmakers for sexual harassment. One of those members is Reading’s Thomas Caltagirone, who denied the accusation and declined to resign. The Democrat was easily re-elected this November.
He’s not alone. Rep. Nick Miccarelli is under a protection from abuse order filed by his fellow lawmaker and former girlfriend Rep. Tarah Toohil, who said the Republican was physically abusive and stalked her. A political consultant who dated Miccarelli said the lawmaker raped her. Miccarelli did not seek reelection, but will finish the session. He is now eligible for lifetime benefits in addition to a pension.
Democratic State Sen. Daylin Leach has also not stepped down following the Inquirer‘s conversations with “eight women and three men [who] recounted instances when Leach either put his hands on women or steered conversations with young, female subordinates into sexual territory, leaving them feeling upset and powerless to stop the behavior.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has called for the resignations of all three, all of whom deny any wrongdoing.
Krueger-Braneky said last month she’s continued “to hear stories from staff that has been harassed by members or worse” who are “scared to come forward because they don’t believe anyone will believe them.”
“The powers that be in Harrisburg,” she said, “are sending a clear message: ‘We don’t stand with victims. We don’t stand with survivors.'”
Coming in 2019
Despite public scandals in three of the four caucuses, Democratic and Republican leadership will remain essentially the same next session.
Republican House leaders asked Miccarelli to step down after an internal investigation found the allegations to be credible, but did not move to expel him. A House spokesperson in May told the Inquirer and Caucus the issue was “in the hands of law enforcement.”
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County has declined to discuss the allegations against Caltagirone, but introduced a resolution that would “update House rules to authorize the House Ethics Committee to investigate complaints of discrimination or harassment concerning House members and require additional anti-sexual harassment and discrimination training for all lawmakers in each new legislative term.”
Dermody’s counterpart in the Senate, Allegheny County’s Jay Costa, did not call on Leach to resign. But the caucus did hold mandatory workplace harassment training and hired an HR director in April.
Outside of Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women tried to make the #MeToo accusations an election issue. The group refused to endorse candidates unless they called for the resignations of lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct, including Caltagirone, Leach, Miccarelli, and Philadelphia Sheriff Jewel Williams.
Nina Ahmad, a former NOW chapter president and aide to Mayor Jim Kenney who ran for lieutenant governor, said the demand “was a no-brainer for us.”
“Because no one else is doing anything,” she said.
The election is over, but Ahmad said the NOW chapter will continue to demand people accused of sexual misconduct are held to account.
For her part, Krueger-Braneky said she will re-introduce #MeToo legislation next session. “I will work on it for as long as it takes.”