It’s amazing, I know, but there’s actually been some good news to come out of the state Legislature regarding sexual harassment. The Speaker Emeritus Joe Souki investigation, and his subsequent resignation, has somehow prompted the state House of Representatives to make a concrete change in how they handle sexual harassment complaints in the future.
“House Speaker Scott K. Saiki today announced the formation of an Interim Working Group to Evaluate House Procedures on Disruptive Behavior,” states a May 9 press release sent out by the legislative press office. “The advisory group will evaluate current House procedures relating to reporting, investigating and eliminating inappropriate harassment behavior.”
The news release also quotes Saiki himself: “This working group is comprised of experts who will recommend improvements to the House’s workplace standards and procedures,” Saiki said. “We are taking this initiative to ensure that the House maintains a safe and productive working environment for all employees and visitors.”
The working group consists of the following individuals: Janna Nakagawa, the Executive Vice President, Chief Governance and Corporate Services Officer for Hawaii Medical Services Association (HMSA); Ryan Sanada, the Director of Legal and Government Affairs for the Hawai‘i Employers Council; and Robin Wurtzel, the Chief Counsel for the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission (Brian L. Takeshita, the House Chief Clerk, will also a member of the group, but only in an advisory capacity).
The fact that two of the three official members of the group are women is promising. That an attorney like Wurtzel is a member is especially good. In fact, Wurtzel is quoted extensively in a February 2018 Hawaii Business article on sexual harassment here in Hawai‘i.
“Nobody thinks it’s OK, but somehow people are doing it,” Wurtzel says in the article. “I think employees get their cues from managers and from presidents, CEOs, vice presidents, whoever is above them. And I think having an appropriate workplace is the best example, and for people to stand up and say, ‘That’s really not appropriate.’ Or, ‘That makes me uncomfortable.’ Or, ‘You know, you really shouldn’t tell jokes like that.’ Or, ‘You shouldn’t say things like that.’”
One more thing: though it will undoubtedly take a while for the House to settle on new rules and standards of conduct that make it easier for victims of sexual harassment to get justice, there’s no doubt that the House is taking these steps because of pressure from the public. As Civil Beat’s recent re-reporting of sexual harassment and assault allegations against the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye make clear (the original charges, which the news media never adequately reported on, date to the early 1990s), sexual harassment and assault are nothing new. What is new is that we live in a time when people–especially women–are tired of being quiet about it.
“This change did not come by pressure from within,” Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women Executive Director Khara Jabola-Carolus said on Twitter not long after Saiki’s announcement.
Photo: Kerry Gershaneck/Wikipedia