HARRISBURG – In response to recent cases of sexual harassment at the Capitol, five female members of the House Republican Caucus today unveiled a legislative package to make significant reforms to protect taxpayers and victims.
In March, then-Rep. Mike Zabel resigned after it became public that over several years he sexually harassed a lobbyist, another legislator and his former campaign manager. More recently, the state paid out a $295,000 sexual harassment settlement to a woman who worked for Mike Vereb. At the time of the offense, Vereb was Gov. Josh Shapiro’s secretary of legislative affairs.
“While the House expanded the House Ethical Conduct Rules in 2019, before I was elected, to cover incidents of sexual harassment by members and officers of the House against House employees, recent incidents have shown we need to tighten our rules further to serve as a better deterrent against inappropriate behavior,” said Rep. Abby Major (R-Armstrong/Westmoreland). “In addition, the rule changes would give members and employees more redress if they are victimized. I am hopeful that my Democrat colleagues would join me in supporting these common-sense changes.”
Major’s resolution would amend House Ethical Conduct Rules to add “non-verbal acts” to the definition of sexual harassment; expand the rules to include a prohibition on members and officers of the House from engaging in sexual harassment while performing House-related services or duties or in any House owned or leased property; allow a person to appeal their ethics complaint if it was dismissed after a preliminary investigation; and increase transparency related to the number of complaints filed before the Ethics Committee and their disposition.
“It’s time we demonstrate to the people of Pennsylvania that sexual harassment will not be tolerated throughout the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York). “I’m proud to join my Republican women colleagues to sponsor a commonsense bill that will protect the identities of victims of sexual harassment and assault who have entered into a settlement agreement with a public entity. It’s unacceptable that information as sensitive as a victim’s name can be accessed by the public through the right to know process, jeopardizing their safety and privacy. It’s important to clearly state this confidentiality expansion is for victims, not their perpetrators. We need to protect those who are vulnerable and provide pathways to justice, and this package of bills is a strong step toward achieving that goal.”
Klunk’s bill would amend the Commonwealth’s Right-to-Know Law to redact the name of a victim of sexual harassment or assault before a settlement agreement is released to the public.
“Government transparency should always be of the highest priority,” said Rep. Donna Scheuren (R-Montgomery). “By including settlement information on PennWATCH, Commonwealth residents will have a clearer picture of what is happening in state government and how their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being spent. I would argue this would also serve as a deterrent against sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior.”
Scheuren’s bill would amend the PennWATCH Act to include information on each settlement paid to an individual or an employee of a Commonwealth agency, as a result of an action taken by an employee of a Commonwealth agency.
“My legislation would establish accountability and deter elected officials, advisors to elected officials or senior managerial staff from relying on these funds to settle lawsuits that directly involve their own actions,” said Rep. Charity Grimm Krupa (R-Fayette). “The cost of their failure to conduct themselves accordingly should not be borne by innocent taxpayers while they resign to enjoy their tax-funded pensions and salaries.”
Grimm Krupa’s bill would set forth a clear and detailed framework allowing the Commonwealth to seek reimbursement and accountability from those individuals whose improper and unlawful action result in settlements or judgments paid by the Commonwealth.
“My legislation would enshrine already existing federal protections into Pennsylvania law and enable sexual harassment victims and survivors to speak out,” said Rep. Ann Flood. “Victims and survivors will no longer fear they will face retaliation for coming forward. Further, this will allow Pennsylvania law to align with federal law, which increases transparency and encourage other victims to come forward and to ultimately hold perpetrators accountable.”
Flood’s bill would enshrine the federal non-disclosure agreement law into state law. More specifically, it would prohibit the enforcement of pre-employment non-disclosure agreements and non-disparagement agreements between employers and employees, independent contractors, and between goods and services providers and consumers. In addition, it would void any agreements that were in place before a sexual assault or harassment dispute arises.
Representative Abby Major
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tracy Polovick