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HARRISBURG — A lobbyist for one of Pennsylvania’s most influential labor unions says a sitting House lawmaker sexually harassed her, and she’s calling on lawmakers to expand internal rules governing who can file complaints of misconduct.
Andi Perez, who is campaigning on behalf of the Service Employees International Union 32BJ in Harrisburg, made the allegation Friday in Philadelphia during a hearing organized by new House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks.
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Rozzi has scheduled a series of public meetings to seek feedback on the state house’s operating procedures, while the party has become deadlocked as to which political party controls the chamber. The sessions offer Pennsylvanians a rare opportunity to engage directly with the rules, which most years pass quickly at the beginning of each new legislative session.
Perez said Friday that she was harassed by a male lawmaker while debating a bill outside the Capitol. She did not provide the lawmaker’s name, party affiliation, or other details.
Lawmakers “decided to fondle my leg while wearing a skirt the entire time while telling me he was impressed with my passion and knowledge of the topics we were talking about,” Perez said. “I walked away from him hoping he would quit — he didn’t.”
“I could sit here for hours and tell you the range of emotions I felt afterwards,” she continued. “Of course, I was furious at the disrespect and arrogance that it takes to so brazenly sexually harass me in a public place where I’m just trying to do my job for the workers in my union.”
Perez tried to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee, she said, but was told, “Sorry, the rules don’t allow you to file a complaint because you’re not an employee of the House of Representatives.” There was nothing in the House Rules that allowed the leadership to officially take further action.”
In a brief reply on Friday, Rozzi Perez thanked her for her “courage”.
“I promise this will be another issue that we will review in our rules going forward,” he said.
A spokesman for the State House Democrats said in a statement, “There have been situations in the past and unfortunately we know they are possible in the future.”
“While progress was made through the rule changes enacted in 2019, we continue to work to develop a broader set of rules to ensure that a fair process for complaints of harassment and discrimination – for all protected classes – is included in the rules finally adopted for this session ‘ said spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman.
A spokesman for the chamber’s GOP caucus said he was “not made aware of the said allegation.”
In 2019, State House leadership added workplace safeguards to the board’s rules for the first time, prohibiting “unsolicited sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
The change came after two women accused a male lawmaker of physical and sexual abuse but he continued to serve in Parliament until the end of his term. One of the women was also a state legislator and received a restraining order against him.
As Spotlight PA previously reported, the policy only covers State House employees. As a result, people who regularly interact with lawmakers — such as other government employees, lobbyists, voters, and journalists — have been unable to report allegations to the committee.
Perez wants lawmakers to pass guidelines on sexual abuse and harassment that cover more people interacting with lawmakers in the course of their official duties.
“No one is above the law,” Perez said. “A lawmaker who harasses someone should be held accountable by their own peers through an ethics process.”
The House and Senate usually pass rules on the first day of a new two-year legislative session, after leaders work out the details behind closed doors.
The upper chamber did so on January 3, but the rules remain unfinished in the lower chamber. Democrats are awaiting the results of the special election, which is expected to yield a one-vote majority – which would allow the party to set the rules without compromise – while Republicans have unsuccessfully attempted to regain the chamber amid internal divisions to force into the meeting.
Rozzi canceled future State House meetings and convened a bipartisan committee to negotiate the rules. According to his office, he planned the listening tour to “find solutions to the partisan deadlock” and to find a way to move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment that would give survivors of childhood sexual abuse the ability to sue their abusers.
The latter is a personal concern for Rozzi, who is a survivor himself. He said Friday he plans to hold at least two more hearings before releasing a rules package that “all Pennsylvanians will be proud of.”
The hearings provide an unusual opportunity for public discussions about the rules that determine how easy or difficult it is for bills to become law and, importantly to Perez and other proponents, disciplinary procedures for lawmakers.
Perez’s experience has already sparked a reaction within the legislature, she said. State Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hannover, last year proposed a rule change to specifically prohibit state house lawmakers from “engaging in sexual harassment while performing home-related services or duties, or while performing in or on owned or leased property or facilities.” . ”
Perez said Klunk’s proposal, which was not accepted, would be a “step in changing the culture of Harrisburg.”
As in the State House, the State Senate rules allow only lawmakers and chamber staffers to file internal complaints of sexual harassment.
In early January, state Sens. Katie Muth, D-Chester, and Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, urged the chamber to pass rules that would cover non-employees, an attempt rebuffed by Republicans.
“Sen. Muth and I want to make sure that every person in this building is protected and has a safe place to report wrongdoing,” Williams told Spotlight PA.
While chamber-wide efforts have failed, Senate Democrats are in the process of amending an internal ethics policy to add protections from sexual harassment for non-employees, Williams said.
Both moves were supported by the SEIU and a number of other unions and progressive interest groups.
In letters sent to lawmakers in both houses earlier this month, the coalition called for expanded rules.
“How the House of Representatives decides to govern itself is a message to every workplace and employer in the state. It sets a standard by which the Commonwealth should abid,” the letter reads. “Pass [Klunk’s] The resolution would tell anyone who comes outside to argue that they will be protected from harassment and that their safety is paramount.”
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