Alaska legislators approve new policy for reporting, addressing sexual harassment

Months after two Alaska lawmakers resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, the Legislature’s internal governing body has approved new procedures for reporting and addressing sexual harassment and other misconduct within the Capitol.

In a 14-0 vote, the Legislature’s internal governing body approved a six-page “Sexual and Other Workplace Harassment Policy” and a two-page “Professional Workplace Conduct Policy.”

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, was one of the lawmakers who worked on the policy and said she is pleased with the result. Legislators and employees have formal routes for reporting problems, timelines for responses, and clear knowledge of consequences.

The twin policies cover both sexual harassment and actions, such as aggressive shouting or throwing things around an office, that might not be harassment or illegal but are inappropriate in lawmakers’ view.

[Rep. Parish faced sexual harassment complaint]

“I’m happy that both policies are supported,” she said.

The policies were a “bipartisan, bicameral” effort, MacKinnon said, and lawmakers drew guidance from similar policies in other states.

The policies are effective immediately, and the Empire viewed application forms on the Legislature’s internal computer network Tuesday morning.

Olivia Garrett, the former Legislative staffer whose complaint led to the resignation of former Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, generally praised the new guidelines when asked by the Empire what she thought of them.

“This is much more thorough than the old policy was when I was a staffer which is great to see,” she said.

She pointed out several elements of the policy for particular praise.

The new policy definitively identifies who should receive a complaint and how to make one, then states that someone doesn’t have to be a victim of harassment to report it. Garrett called that “great.”

The policy now has both a “formal” and “informal” complaint process. Informal complaints can be made anonymously but must be passed on to the Legislative Affairs Agency’s human resources manager.

“That’s kinda where things went wrong with my complaint,” she wrote.

In Garrett’s case, she was told to put her complaint in writing and gave it to House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage. She did so, but the complaint wasn’t forwarded to HR because it was considered informal. It didn’t garner attention until she released the complaint to the public.

Garrett also praised the inclusion of timelines for reporting back to a complainant. Under the new guidelines, HR has 10 days to start an investigation after receiving a complaint. A draft report must be finished within 30 days, and both sides of the complaint have five days to offer comments. After that, HR has 10 days to compile a final draft.

“Timelines for investigations are great! Good to see that change,” she wrote.

Perhaps the most important aspect, she said, is that retaliation is expressly prohibited, and examples of retaliation are listed.

Her sole critique was that the section on potential punishment could have been fleshed out.

The woman who reported being assaulted by former Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, in February offered her thoughts to the Empire when asked.

“These rules wouldn’t apply since I don’t work in the Legislature and I really consider what he did to be assault and not sexual harassment. When I was deciding what to do, I did consider reporting it to Skiff Lobaugh but figured that wouldn’t be the appropriate place since it wasn’t a work-related thing,” she said.

“All that said, I think the fact that the Legislature has addressed this issue is great. I was really impressed with how the House Majority/Speaker Edgmon handled what happened to me and I think that shows that things are moving in the right direction.”


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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