ST. PAUL - Minnesota House members who refuse to take sex harassment prevention training may have a whole lot of time on their hands.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said on Thursday, Nov. 16, that while he cannot fire House members, he will remove their committee membership if they do not get take the training. Without committee work, members would have little to do for most of a legislative session since committee meetings eat up most of lawmakers' time.
Members usually get committees on topics they care about, such as farmers landing seats on agriculture committees.
Daudt's decision, which was not echoed by Senate leaders, comes as the Legislature deals with two male members who are alleged to have treated women inappropriately.
A lobbyist who has not allowed her name to be used says Rep.Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, aggressively pursued her over a decade. A legislator said Cornish sent her inappropriate messages.
Sen. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, stands accused by three women, including a legislator, of improperly treating them, including one who said he grabbed her buttocks.
While some in the Capitol quietly said that once the two were accused, more women would come forward with allegations about others, that has not happened.
House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, she has not heard of other unreported incidents.
The Minnesota legislative reports surfaced as a large number of women in government, entertainment and other industries have come forward in recent weeks with sexual harassment stories.
In the Legislature, the situation is different than in private business, Daudt said. For one thing, he cannot take action on his own. Also, lobbyists are not legislative employees, so the House and Senate have less control in those instances.
However, House and Senate ethics committees have power to discipline members. The Senate Ethics Committee is expected to take up the Schoen case. Daudt hired an outside firm to look into the Cornish situation.
The House and Senate plan to offer the training near the beginning of the next session on Feb. 20. Daudt said House members probably will be offered the course the second day of session.
"We have to wake up as a country," Peppin said about sexual harassment. "People shouldn't have to deal with that."
She said that she has not been a victim as a lawmaker.
Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said they were troubled that Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota on Thursday was accused of improperly treated a female entertainer during a 2006 USO tour.
"The photo is pretty troubling," Daudt said about one showing Franken joking like he was going to grab the woman's breasts."We can't call sexual harassment a joke."
Franken apologized and said he wants the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to investigate.
Gazelka said that recent sexual harassment revelations have one positive aspect. "We are all going to get better as a result of what has happened."