BATON ROUGE -- As allegations of sexual harassment continue to surface throughout the country, those inside Louisiana's highest level of government are calling for action.
Two different requests for policy reviews have now been launched; one into state government as a whole, the other specifically for the Legislature.
"I offer up this amendment as a part of keeping the spirit alive of trimming the fat," said State Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, on the House floor in May 2016.
That comment, coupled with a suggestion to require exotic dancers meet a certain age and weight requirement, followed by several state lawmakers bringing up dollar bills to the podium, set off female lawmakers in the State Capitol.
"How does that become something that's even tolerable on any level in our government," said State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.
Six months later, during a legislative hearing, a controversial birthday cake raised the issue of inappropriateness once again.
"This is the people's House and this is certainly not the place for this type of behavior," said State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans.
Now, with sexual harassment allegations leading to the resignation and investigation of a top official in the Governor's Office, some female lawmakers are calling for a review of all sexual harassment policies, payouts and checks during hiring practices across state government.
"It's a good time to review everything and I think that that starts at the top with the Governor's Office. He needs to set a good strong example," said State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, "Everybody deserves a work place free of sexual harassment. We know that it happens everywhere, in private industry, as well as state government and we just want to make sure we have policies in place where people feel comfortable reporting it, they get it investigated, the accused has due process and all of that."
At the same time, the Legislature's women's caucus wants another look at what happens in their environment.
"I would say that we have to work a lot harder and smarter to earn our credibility and that sometimes can be very frustrating," said State Rep. Malinda Brumfield-White, D-Bogalusa, "I've seen meetings held where not one female was present and I think that we have a lot to offer that would be beneficial in policy making."
Longtime male lawmakers say while there are annual sexual harassment training requirements already in place for House and Senate members, as well as their staff, more could be done.
"Certainly we need to improve our procedures so those kinds of problems don't exist in state government and we just need to follow through on that and make sure it gets done," said State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.
The Governor's Office says it will work with Hewitt and the entire Legislature to promote a safe, positive work environment for all state employees.
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