Female legislators: More should be done to reduce sexual harassment

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Sens. Melinda Bush (31st) and Cristina Castro (22nd) joined Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, (25th) Rhode Island Sen. Gayle Goldin, former Legislative Inspector General Tom Homer and Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (99th) to discuss changes to how the state legislature should address sexual harassment. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

On the heels of  a longtime aide of Speaker Michael Madigan being fired over sexual harassment allegations, some Illinois lawmakers discussed Friday how to improve the reporting process for women working in state government.

The panel at the Standard Club included Sens. Melinda Bush (31st) Cristina Castro (22nd), and Reps. Barbara Flynn Currie (25th), the majority leader, and Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (99th) as well as Tom Homer, the first legislative inspector general.

Castro, and others on the panel organized by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said everyone shares the blame for sexual harassment at the Statehouse.

“The process failed 27 complaints that were there, and they sat there for two years; the new inspector general has been appointed and is diligently working to address those issues. But the process failed,” Castro said.

Bodies such as new legislative sexual harassment task forces and the longstanding Legislative Ethics Commission are looking at “what can we do better and what can we do differently . . . so there is more transparency and a more thorough process,” Castro said.

Flynn Currie said the legislature may need to consider expanding who can file a complaint to lobbyists, contractors, interns, consultants and campaign workers, as well as extending the statute of limitations from six months to one year or more.

Homer, who oversaw the complaint process and worked closely with the state’s Legislative Ethics Commission, said the commission needs more teeth, like being able to issue a reprimand or censure.

Allegations of sexual assault and harassment at the Statehouse surfaced last fall in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Women in both chambers came forward with their stories.

Members of both legislative chambers were appointed to task forces to address sexual assault, and are planning to have public subject matter hearings on proposed legislation that comes before them.

Allegations of harassment continue to surface. State Sen. Ira Silverstein was accused of harassment in October, before being cleared by the legislative inspector general last month.

The most recent allegations involve former Madigan aide Kevin Quinn, a younger brother of Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), who was accused of harassing Alaina Hampton, a political consultant.

In texts released this week by Hampton, Kevin Quinn repeatedly asks to take her out for drinks, and she repeatedly declines, saying she’d like to just focus on her work and maintain a strictly professional relationship. Though Madigan fired Quinn, panelists said there are still questions concerning the accusations that could be asked.

Flynn Currie defended Madigan’s response to the allegations, saying he acted “appropriately and in a timely manner.”

The majority leader said she hopes the work of the task forces will encourage more people to come forward and make the reporting process better.

“I hope that the end result of this movement – and all the things we’re doing not only in Illinois but across the country – will lead to more women being willing to come forward and say, ‘This happened to me, and it’s unacceptable’ and not face stigma or retaliation,” Flynn Currie said. “That should be our goal.”

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