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More representatives sign off on harassment policy at State House

State House Bureau

November 28. 2017 12:19PM

CONCORD — More than 30 state representatives who previously failed to acknowledge the Legislature’s policy against sexual harassment have turned in the requested paperwork in the past week, in the wake of media reports that only 280 of 400 representatives had returned the signed form as of Nov. 1.

“I just checked, and we’re getting them down to where they need to be,” said House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff on Monday.

It was Pfaff who on Nov. 1 reminded representatives of the policy, which many had acknowledged at the beginning of the year. “Since the last email went out on Nov. 1, we’ve got another 38 in total,” said Pfaff. “We’re whittling it down.”

That means about 80 of 400 representatives have yet to turn in paperwork that merely acknowledges they received the nine-page policy statement, prohibiting harassment or discrimination based on 12 characteristics, ranging from age, race and sex, to genetic information and veteran or military status.

The policy was provided to representatives at the start of the year, with a reminder going out in the House Calendar of Jan. 20, and again earlier this month. The House leadership also sought signatures at the end of the veto session on Nov. 2.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper, with only three days left in his tenure, said on Monday that he has been frustrated by the process.

“What’s disturbing to me is the number of people who’ve stated that this is somehow a violation of their freedom of speech because in fact all it is is acknowledging that we sent it to them,” said Jasper. “It’s not saying they agree to it, or will abide by it, or anything other than, ‘Yes, I received this policy.’ That obviously is a concern.”

Gov. Chris Sununu appearing on a WMUR Sunday morning talk show also expressed disappointment at the response rate.

“I have not seen the policy itself,” he said, “But I do not know why you would not sign it. Signing a piece of paper like that, even if just symbolic, it says we understand what is going on and we are willing to move forward, be transparent, and hopefully create a better culture and atmosphere. There is nothing political about that.”

Speaker candidates

Republican candidates for Speaker to replace Jasper expressed divergent viewpoints on the topic as they prepared for today’s Republican caucus and the vote for a new Speaker on Thursday.

“What’s important is that we have a strong sexual harassment policy in place in the State House and that the spirit and intent are followed. Whether or not an elected official signs it or not is irrelevant as it pertains to its enforceability,” said State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, the only woman among the six declared GOP candidates to replace Jasper.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, who returned his form in January, said he understands why some representatives may be reluctant.

“Representatives are not employees of the state,” he said. “The district votes them in or out. Even though I signed for it, I still think this is a feel-good, look what I did, type of thing in putting that out for legislators to sign. If there is a problem, it goes to the Ethics Committee and we have rules in place.”

Under the radar

Rep. Steve Smith, who signed his acknowledgement in December of 2016, suggested that only a handful of representatives are willfully withholding their signatures, and that for most the matter simply slipped through the cracks.

“We have this problem with a lot of forms,” he said. “There are other disclosures we have to sign and we have to chase people to collect them.”

Rep. John Burt, a critic of the signature request in the past, said he has not signed the acknowledgement and would not encourage other reps to do so.

“Signing a piece of paper does not stop someone,” he said. “It’s like having a gun-free zone. A nut with a gun is going to walk by that sign. It’s just a feel-good measure. Everyone should have the policy sent to them, but a signature is not going to make one bit of difference if you are the type of person who is going to harass someone.”

According to records provided by the House Legal Counsel, 10 harassment complaints have been reviewed under the policy from February 2015 to November 2017, ranging from “Sergeant-at-Arms reported a male state representative touching a female state representative on the knee on the House floor,” to “female employee reported that a male state representative told an off-color joke in her office and made her feel uncomfortable.”

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Thank you, Sununu