Alton, IL

New Harassment Law In Place

Story by WBGZ Radio

New state laws meant to deal with stories of rampant sexual harassment under the dome in Springfield are now active. A firm that is now forced to comply calls them “sweeping” and is worried about complying with them in the short time given.

The new laws are not just aimed at lawmakers and their staffs but for lobbying firms that might send only one person to Springfield. They include specific guidelines dictating what a company must do internally about sexual harassment.

The new rules come after dozens of complaints were shelved for up to two years because lawmakers failed to appoint a legislative inspector general. In October, hundreds of women signed a letter detailing a number of situations regarding lawmaker misconduct toward women as well as men.

“The reality is that telling the truth can still cost you your career,” the letter read. “Unless enough of us speak up.”

Only one of the signees, anti-violence advocate Denise Rotheimer, has spoken up publicly about a specific claim. Rotheimer named state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, as her alleged harasser just days after the letter was released. Silverstein was stripped of his leadership position in the Senate but is still seeking re-election.

In spite of the new hoops, many have criticized the lack of substantial change in the way that complaints are handled.

David Frulla, partner with governmental relations firm Kelley Drye and Warren, thinks lobbyists who are victims of harassment are not likely to immediately trust the system.

“They’re going to need to be convinced that the process is trustworthy for this to work at all,” Frulla said. “When there are allegations stacking up for a couple of years, the legislature’s got a hole to dig out of.”

He says their firm would likely retain a lawyer before going through the state’s preferred channels.

“I would work with the attorney to stage the discussions in a way that would best protect our employee and also the firm to a lesser extent,” he said.

In enacting the rules, lawmakers gave these firms only weeks to adhere to them or face thousands of dollars in fines.

The legislative inspector general must first ask for permission from a group of lawmakers, the Legislative Ethics Commission, before she is able to pursue an investigation. This, critics say, creates a “fox guarding the henhouse” situation in which lawmakers can put a halt to any complaint that may damage members or party. Even members of the commission have criticized its role in the process.

No other ethics watchdog in Illinois must take a step such as that to pursue a complaint.

(Copyright WBGZ Radio /


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