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In wake of recent allegations, Pennsylvania state lawmakers target sexual harassment in the Capitol

House Republicans unveil a legislative package addressing sexual harassment
Ben Wasserstein
House Republicans unveil a legislative package addressing sexual harassment

Five women in the House Republican Caucus unveiled a bill package Wednesday to address sexual harassment in the Capitol.

In March, Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, resigned after being accused of sexual harassment by a lobbyist, his former campaign manager and Rep. Abby Major, R-Armstrong.

This was later followed by the resignation of Legislative Affairs Secretary Mike Vereb in September amid accusations of sexual harassment. It was later revealed that Vereb’s accuser received $295,000 in the settlement.

Major is leading the charge in the legislative package alongside Reps. Kate Klunk, R-York, Donna Scheuren, R-Montgomery, Charity Grimm Krupa, R-Fayette, and Ann Flood, R-Northampton.

Major said the bills are designed to combat sexual harassment, though they might not eliminate it.

“Based on recent events this year, it’s obvious that sexual harassment is a real problem in Harrisburg,” Major said. “While I doubt we can ever completely eradicate this behavior, this package of bills is a step in the right direction to protect any future victims and also the taxpayers who end up paying for these settlements.”

Each lawmaker will sponsor their own bill or resolution.

The first, sponsored by Major, would amend House Ethical Conduct Rules to add “non-verbal acts” to the definition of sexual harassment.

It would also allow a person to appeal an ethics complaint if it was dismissed after a preliminary investigation and increase transparency of the number of complaints filed before the Ethics Committee.

Klunk’s bill would amend the Right-to-Know Law to redact the names of victims of sexual harassment before a settlement is released to the public.

Grimm Krupa will introduce a bill allowing the state to seek reimbursement from those people accused of sexual harassment resulting in a settlement.

This would prevent taxpayer money from going to settlements, as seen with Vereb’s allegations.

Grimm Krupa said her bill would hold those who harass people accountable, without punishing taxpayers.

“My bill would send a clear message to all public servants that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and those responsible will be required to take personal accountability for the financial consequences of their actions,” Grimm Krupa said.

Under Scheuren’s bill, the PennWATCH Act would be amended to include information on each settlement paid to an individual or employee in the government as a means to increase transparency.

This was notable in the case of Vereb, in which he remained at his post for several months after the accusation was filed.

The final bill, sponsored by Flood, would incorporate the federal non-disclosure agreement law into the state. It would also void any agreements that were in place before a sexual assault or harassment dispute.

“Victims and survivors will no longer fear they will face retaliation for coming forward,” Flood said. “Further, this will allow Pennsylvania law to align with federal law, which increases transparency and encourages other victims to come forward and to ultimately hold perpetrators accountable.”

The lawmakers were joined by Emma Davidson Tribbs, director and co-founder of the National Women’s Defense League.

The group released its annual report on abuse of power Tuesday and found 130 lawmakers accused of sexual harassment across the nation this past decade.

“This isn’t a single-party issue or an anomaly,” Tribbs said. “It is a systemic, under-regulated abuse of power in every statehouse across the country.”

Major said multiple Democratic Representatives have reached out in support of the legislation.