New Hampshire House Speaker Shawn Jasper says he’s disappointed that roughly one-quarter of his chamber has not signed a form acknowledging they’ve read the official Statehouse sexual harassment policy. The way he sees it, “there should be 100 percent compliance.”
“That troubles me greatly, and I think that’s something that should be of interest quite frankly to the people who are electing these people,” Jasper told NHPR on Monday. “They ought to be looking and saying what is going on here, if I’m electing somebody who even refuses to acknowledge that they’re receiving this policy.”
As first reported by WMUR last week, just 280 of 400 representatives have returned that paperwork, after repeated reminders from House leadership to do so. Senate officials say all 24 members in that chamber returned the paperwork.
That policy spells out expectations of what kind of language and behavior is unacceptable and would be considered harassment. It also spells out how lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists or other members of the public can file a report if they feel they’ve been subject to harassment on Statehouse grounds.
House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff says the leadership team has repeatedly reminded lawmakers to complete the paperwork, but they can't force any individual representative to return the form. In any case, Pfaff says all lawmakers are subject to the policy even if their signature is not on file.
“Whether they acknowledge or don’t acknowledge, it in no way affects my ability to enforce the policy,” Pfaff says. “I will enforce the policy to the best of my ability and the best of this administration’s ability.”
Some lawmakers have said they were not trying to evade the requirements and simply forgot to return the paperwork. But others have been more defiant, suggesting the policy could be an infringement on their right to free speech.
“That’s extremely troubling to me because it indicates to me that they probably haven’t read the policy at all,” Jasper said. “We’re not infringing on their right of free speech. They can still say whatever they want but they’ll know what they’re going to be in trouble for saying. While we can’t prevent them from saying these things to people, there are repercussions.”
At the end of the day, Jasper says the lawmakers are accountable to their voters — and the public should feel empowered to demand answers from legislators who did not sign the form.
“I hope they call up the representatives and say, ‘Well, why have you not even acknowledged that you received this receipt?’ And if they start getting this argument that it’s restricting my speech. Well, how does acknowledging something restrict you?”
Moving forward, Pfaff says the House is also working with an outside firm to hold more robust training on sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the months ahead. The sessions will be geared toward legislators, staff and perhaps even lobbyists, because many of them also spend large chunks of time at the capitol as part of their day-to-day job responsibilities.
“It will be mandatory for staff,” Pfaff says of the new training, “I can’t make it mandatory for [House] members.”
If legislators don’t take advantage of the opportunity to attend the training, he says, “That’s their problem, we’ll encourage them all to take it.”