Montana lawmakers advance new sexual misconduct policy

AP

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HELENA — The Montana Legislature’s rules committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal to prohibit discrimination, harassment and retaliation and set a confidential process to report and investigate complaints. The full Legislature must approve the policy in January.

“Not only would this protect members of the Legislature, whether they’re accused or making the accusation, it would also just protect the integrity of the body,” said outgoing House Minority Leader Jenny Eck. The Democrat from Helena co-wrote the policy. “This is really important to protect the institution.”

The policy was developed over the last 18 months amid sexual misconduct complaints made against lawmakers across the country as part of the #MeToo movement. It also addresses complaints of harassment or discrimination based on a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation.

Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, acknowledged the proposal should be clarified to say that an accused lawmaker would be allowed to present their side of the story.

Susan Byworth Fox, executive director of the Legislative Services Division, said an appeals process would be part of the legislation.

After a complaint is made, a legislative conduct panel will conduct an inquiry, which could lead to internal discipline such as required training or the loss of committee assignments.

More serious allegations could be forwarded to a third-party investigator with recommendations that the complaint be heard by the Ethics Committee or possibly forwarded to law enforcement.

An appeal of a finding of the Ethics Committee could be made to the entire Legislature, Fox said.

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