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EDITORIAL: Curbing harassment in creepy Capitol becomes a priority

The Illinois Legislature | Seth Perlman/AP file

The same politicians who have created laws to protect you from sexual harassment on the job have failed to rid their own workplace — the state Capitol — of sleazy behavior.

Now, finally, Illinois lawmakers are scrambling to do something. Embarrassment can work wonders.

Everybody knows the Legislature would be doing nothing, even now, were it not for dozens of women who have come forward in the last few weeks to share their experiences of being harassed by lawmakers and lobbyists. The women spoke up in the wake of sexual harassment and assault allegations against film executive Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men in Hollywood and in the media.

In the next week, lawmakers plan to take two important and overdue steps to curb harassment, including amending the state’s ethics act to include harassment as unethical conduct. Until that’s fixed, harassers don’t have to worry about being censured by their peers, and those being harassed have no reason to come forward.


Also on the Legislature’s to-do list, until this weekend, was filling the vacant position of inspector general. Legislative leaders of both parties couldn’t agree on who should fill the job for the last few years, so they took the easy way out and left the job unfilled for two years. On Saturday, the Legislative Ethics Commission finally appointed a former federal prosecutor, Julie Porter to the post.

Too often, government works that way. Nothing gets done until a crisis forces action. And we certainly have a crisis here.

In an open letter on Google, as well as on Facebook, hundreds of women in Illinois have alleged harassment. Last Tuesday, victims’ rights advocate Denise Rotheimer told a House committee that she filed a harassment complaint last year against Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Democrat from Chicago. For the last year, her complaint has gone nowhere. Silverstein denies the charge but was forced out of a leadership position.

If an inspector general had been on the job, he or she could have investigated the allegation and presented findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission.

We now know 27 ethics complaints have not been investigated because there is no inspector general, though we don’t know how many of those complaints are related to sexual harassment. We also know those complaints could disappear if the Legislature fails to take yet one more step and eliminate a one-year limitation on the time to investigate complaints.

There is no one-year limit on the pain, trauma and indignity of sexual harassment. There should be no one-year limit on justice.

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