N.H. House Speaker: I Can't Force State Reps To Sign Sexual Harassment Policy

Nov 30, 2017

NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian contributed to this report.

An additional three dozen lawmakers have signed and returned paperwork acknowledging that they’ve read the Statehouse sexual harassment policy in the week since NHPR first published a list of legislators’ signatures on file. 

That brings the total in compliance to a little more than three-quarters of the 400-member House.

(Scroll down to view a list of legislators who have signed the policy.)

Incoming House Speaker Gene Chandler says he will continue encouraging legislators to review and sign the House sexual harassment policy, but he can’t take any steps to force members to do so.

“I mean there’s one thing you learn here if you’ve been around here at all, you can lead a horse to water, the old saying, but you can’t make them drink it,” Chandler told reporters after his election Thursday afternoon.

“I would hope people would read it, but even if they don’t, at least acknowledge that we do have such a policy. But whether they choose to sign or not, it’s up to their own individual things.”

Chandler said he planned to review the status of the anti-harassment training that's offered to members. House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff previously said the House was looking at offering a more thorough program than what was previously provided in the months ahead.

"In the past we have offered it, and I'm sure we will be again," Chandler said. "Because it's an issue, no question."

During Chandler’s previous term as speaker in 2004, the House was ordered to pay $85,000 as part of a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a lawmaker and a legislative staffer. 

In that case, a committee secretary said statehouse leaders did not do enough to protect her from a lawmaker who groped her, told explicit jokes and made threatening phone calls to her home.

According to news reports at the time, House leaders instructed the lawmaker to stay away from the staffer, but "House officials never investigated the merits of [the staffer]'s claims, and they told [the lawmaker] that no judgments had been made against him."

House leadership also reportedly "assigned a security guard to follow [the staffer] around, which she said embarrassed her."

In the aftermath of the lawsuit, Chandler took steps to strengthen the legislature's sexual harassment policy.

Asked on Thursday whether that episode taught him anything about managing such issues at the Statehouse moving forward, Chandler reiterated a stance he took at the time — that he was limited in his ability to discipline lawmakers because legislators are not employees.

“That was against a member,” Chandler said. “Once again, people need to realize members are not employees. There’s very little we can do other than try to encourage them to one, read the policies, and one, don’t do it. But other than that, they are elected officials, and there’s little control we have.”

Among those who hadn’t signed the form until this week was Rep. Kris Schultz, who recently won a Concord special election.

Echoing what she wrote on Facebook in response to questions about why her name was missing from the list of signatures, Schultz told NHPR she had every intention of complying, but felt the House could do a better job communicating expectations about this and other policies with new members who are elected outside the typical campaign cycle.

“As a person with more than one #MeToo story, I can assure you that I am 100% on board with any measures New Hampshire undertakes to stop sexual harassment from happening & punishing those who do harm,” Schultz wrote on Facebook and in an email to NHPR. “As a new legislator, of course I will sign the sexual harassment paperwork for the NH State House. My lack of signing is only a function of being brand new.”

And as a new lawmaker trying to learn the ropes in Concord, Schultz said she hoped the institution would try to do more to educate members.

“There is no orientation for new legislators from special elections. No official guidance to even figure out all the places we need to go or list of things we need to do,” Schultz wrote. “I am appalled by how haphazard and informal the process is for new legislators from special elections.”

When she did return to the Statehouse this week to sign the sexual harassment paperwork, Schultz said she was given only the signature page, not the full policy itself. She said by that time she had already reviewed the policy online.

Has your legislator signed the N.H. House sexual harassment policy?

Note: This list was updated on 11/30/2017.