The Lead

Pa. state senators plan to introduce bipartisan sexual harassment bills

By: - November 14, 2023 5:52 pm
The exterior of the Pennsylvania state Capitol on March 7, 2023 (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

The exterior of the Pennsylvania state Capitol on March 7, 2023 (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

A bipartisan group of women state Senators said Tuesday they will introduce a pair of bills aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace. This announcement comes just over a month after Gov. Josh Shapiro’s legislative affairs secretary, Mike Vereb, resigned following sexual harassment allegations

“As leaders, we need to set the standard to create a safe workplace environment for all in practice and law when it comes to instances of sexual harassment. The recent sexual harassment incidents in the Capitol have presented us with a learning opportunity that we can and should do better,” said state Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland). “Sexual harassment is not a political issue. It is a human issue. While we can’t eradicate all instances, we can do our best to address these matters swiftly and ensure transparency in how taxpayer funds are disbursed.” 

Ward is joined by state Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery), and Maria Collett (D-Montgomery) on the co-sponsorship memo.

The first bill, co-sponsored by Ward and Collett, would require state agencies and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to use a third-party group to investigate all sexual harassment claims submitted by an employee, according to the release. 

“There can be no tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, especially one that serves the people of our Commonwealth,” said Collett. “Our government agencies and public servants should be held to the highest standards, and when misconduct occurs, there must be a clear path to accountability and justice. This package of bills will do just that by helping to strengthen workplace protections and improve transparency.”

The second bill, co-sponsored by Phillips-Hill and Pennycuick, would require public posting of monetary nondisclosure agreements due to sexual harassment or misconduct claim by an employee in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

“The Senate is leading on the issue to fill two critical voids: protect victims of sexual harassment and provide transparency when hard-earned tax dollars are used in a settlement,” Phillips-Hill said. “Our goal is to leave this state government a better place than we found it, and these bills will provide a better place to work and keep taxpayers better informed of how their money is used in Harrisburg.”

According to the press release, if both laws were passed and signed into law, it would apply to employees in all agencies in the state government, including the governor’s office, the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of the Auditor General, the Treasury Department, the General Assembly, and the Judicial branch.

In March, State Rep. Mike Zabel (D-Delaware), resigned after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment.

If Ward and Collett’s law were signed into law during Zabel’s allegations, a third-party would have been required to investigate the sexual harassment claims made against him. 

Vereb’s resignation from the Shapiro administration brought the topic back to the forefront of conversation at the Capitol, with lawmakers in both parties calling for change to current workplace sexual harassment policies.

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John Cole
John Cole

John Cole is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He's worked for various outlets such as The Northeast Times, PoliticsPA, and PCN. In these previous roles, he covered a wide range of topics from local civic association meetings to races across the commonwealth. He earned a degree in journalism from Temple University.