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North Dakota lawmakers advance changes to harassment policy after rep's expulsion

Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said additional training for legislative leaders will better equip them to deal with complaints of harassment.

The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021.
The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — A panel of North Dakota lawmakers has approved proposed tweaks to an internal workplace harassment policy that came under scrutiny after sexual harassment allegations about a now-expelled lawmaker surfaced last year.

Under the changes agreed to by the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee on Wednesday, Sept. 28, majority and minority leaders would receive extra training to help them recognize and investigate harassment in the workplace.

Lawmakers would also gain the option to voice harassment complaints with other high-ranking members of the Legislature if their grievance is with one of the majority or minority leaders.

A separate panel of top lawmakers is expected to rubber-stamp the changes to the policy later this year.

In March 2021, the state House of Representatives took unprecedented action when they expelled former Dickinson Rep. Luke Simons over allegations dating back to 2017 that he sexually harassed female colleagues and staffers. Simons denied he acted inappropriately and claimed he was denied due process.

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Prior to the expulsion hearing, leaders on both sides of the aisle told Forum News Service there were holes in the Legislature's harassment policy that could be ironed out.

PHOTO: Rep. Luke Simons
Former North Dakota Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, speaks at a hearing on his expulsion over sexual harassment accusations on Thursday, March 4, 2021, in this file photo.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said Wednesday the additional training will better equip legislative leaders to deal with complaints of harassment.

Hogan, who handled human resources complaints during her career, played a central role in establishing an overhaul of the Legislature's workplace harassment policy in 2018.

In the lead-up to Simons' expulsion, House leaders noted they had few options for disciplining their colleague since none of the women allegedly harassed by Simons filed a formal complaint.

Hogan said the problem in the Simons case had more to do with leaders not implementing the existing harassment policy than it did with shortcomings of the policy itself.

With more training, Hogan said, leaders should be able to recognize they can address an accusation of harassment or mistreatment even if it was not filed as a formal complaint.

Hogan also noted that adding more "contact people" who can receive complaints against a caucus leader will limit potential retaliation against aggrieved legislators.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, who led the charge to boot Simons, said he thinks the changes to the policy will make the next leader's job easier if a similar situation arises.

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Pollert said the actions taken by his chamber against Simons provide a roadmap for dealing with serious accusations of harassment by a member. The Carrington Republican is set to retire in November.

As part of normal proceedings, all legislators will undergo workplace harassment training in December prior to the beginning of the regular session in January.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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