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Eye on Boise: House members have 'some angst' over new 'respectful workplace' policy

It includes definitions of verbal, non-verbal and physical harassment; forbids retaliation; and includes consequences for filing false complaints.
Credit: KTVB
The Idaho Statehouse.

BOISE, Idaho — After concern from some House members about the Legislature’s new “respectful workplace” policy and how it came about, the House Ethics Committee met last week as a working group to hear presentations and ask questions about it.

“There was some angst,” said House Ethics Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay. “So what we’re doing is we’re taking a look at that. We’re seeking information.” The panel will “make a recommendation to the speaker and to our body in general as to how the House should be interacting with this respectful workplace policy.” Dixon said the panel wants to “educate our members more about what this.”

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, who co-chaired the panel that worked to develop the policy, she heard from a state agency employee who was meeting with a legislator when the table was wobbling, and she got down under the table to try to fix the table leg. “The legislator said, ‘I knew you liked it on your knees.’ No one corrected him.”

In another incident, she said, “a fellow legislator recently shared with me that she was groped again by a member of this body, but she was afraid to come forward. … Women are afraid to say anything. We don’t want to rock the boat, and we don’t want to jeopardize our ability to succeed.”

RELATED: Lawmakers discuss respect in the workplace

Numerous versions of the respectful workplace policy were developed as part of the process before the policy was adopted by the Legislative Council last November, Troy said, and those consulted ranged from lawmakers, Statehouse staffers, lobbyists and reporters to experts from the Attorney General’s office and the state Division of Human Resources.

The policy says that legislators, legislative employees and others in the Capitol “have the right to an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination,” and that the Legislature “expressly prohibits harassment, including sexual harassment, and discrimination based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.” It sets up a Respectful Workplace Committee that can handle complaints, in consultation with the Idaho Attorney General’s office; outlines procedures for investigations, including referrals to law enforcement for criminal investigations where appropriate; and lays out remedies the committee may assess, ranging from an apology to the complainant to counseling or training to triggering an ethics committee action. Legislative employees could face termination; reporters or lobbyists could face loss of access privileges in the Capitol.

The policy applies to events both inside and outside the Capitol, including off-site legislative events, lobbyist-sponsored receptions, and travel to and from official events. It includes definitions of verbal, non-verbal and physical harassment; forbids retaliation; and includes consequences for filing false complaints.

After much discussion, the House panel agreed to seek clarification from House leadership on the “parameters” of the policy, including where the workplace in question is, and who is included in it.


After David Trotter, a Democratic activist from Florida, went online last week to say he’s filing an Idaho Human Rights Commission complaint over an employment dispute with the Idaho Democratic Party, the party announced that it had briefly hired him as executive director, then terminated him two days later.

“The Idaho Democratic Party hired David Trotter as Executive Director on Wednesday, Sept. 4 and terminated his employment on Friday, Sept. 6,” party Communications Director Lindsey Johnson said in an emailed statement. “The IDP compensated him for travel expenses and a month’s work. The IDP is an equal opportunity employer and takes the selection of our employees very seriously. We strive to have the most effective and successful employees possible at all times.”

RELATED: Lawmaker apologizes for comment made during training

Trotter, in a blog post on Monday on “The Political Hurricane Florida Political Blog,” wrote that he’d filed a complaint the night before with the Idaho Human Rights Commission “regarding possible racial discrimination in my hiring process,” saying he won’t be getting into details and is securing legal counsel. The blog post was headlined, “Short statement regarding my firing as Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party.”

Trotter is listed as the founder of the blog; he notes that he worked on a number of Democratic political campaigns in Florida, Nevada, Utah and elsewhere. In 2016, he withdrew from a planned run for the Florida House.

The Idaho Democratic Party’s last executive director was Elle Casner, who left the position in March, though she’s continuing to serve as a senior adviser. The party’s political director, Shelby Scott, is serving as acting executive director.

“We’re discussing internally right now how we’ll move forward,” Johnson said.

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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