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Voices / Letters from readers

Legislature working to provide safe environment at Statehouse

Rep. Mollie S. Burke (P/D-Brattleboro), and Senator Becca Balint (D-Windham County), are currently serving in the Vermont Legislature.

As the chairs of the respective sexual-harassment panels in the Vermont House and Senate, we would like to inform the public of efforts to both prevent and address instances of sexual harassment in our state Legislature.

The House of Representatives has had a sexual harassment policy on the books since 1996. Several years ago, leadership in both chambers appointed members to serve on a panel to update the policy.

The panels had thoughtful discussions about how to move forward on this issue. With the help of our legislative legal staff, each body approved similar provisions for addressing the issue.

The basic policies include a definition of sexual harassment, along with a process for addressing complaints both informally and formally.

The policy covers members of the House and Senate, legislative staff and offices, and members of the public (including lobbyists, advocates, and members of the press), from sexual harassment attributable to a legislator or employee.

The panels have been empowered to receive and investigate complaints and to recommend disciplinary action if necessary. The policy also protects against retaliation.

In addition, each body will continue to receive mandatory sexual harassment training.

In this current climate of sexual harassment awareness, many state legislatures and Congress are recognizing the need to take strong action regarding education and prevention of sexual harassment. Equally important is the adoption of policies ensuring a safe and effective way to report and address transgressions.

We want to let citizens know that, while the Vermont Legislature has not been immune to these issues, we have already been working to provide a harassment-free Statehouse environment, and that we will continue to be vigilant about providing education and addressing complaints.

Mollie S. Burke and Rebecca Balint

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Originally published in The Commons issue #435 (Wednesday, November 22, 2017). This story appeared on page F3.

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