“By far our state capitol is the most misogynistic place I have ever worked,” Pennsylvania state Representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-161) told Ms. in an interview Friday. Her experiences in the chamber are a big reason why Krueger-Braneky, who became the first female representative from her district after she was elected nearly three years ago in a 2015 special election, is doggedly working to pass HB 1965—the #METOO Act.
Currently, the Republican and Democratic caucuses in each house of the Pennsylvania state legislature are responsible for sexual harassment allegations against their members. Because of this decentralized process, Krueger-Braneky has found that “the decisions of those caucuses are made by elected political leaders who almost always put the needs of an elected legislator over the needs of a staff member.”
Krueger-Braneky’s #METOO Act would move the focus to the victims. Her legislation would not only “clearly define sexual harassment” in Pennsylvania state law, but it would “create a bicameral nonpartisan Office of Compliance, require elected officials to reimburse taxpayer settlement for sexual harassment and establish standard procedures to investigate claims made within the General Assembly.”
Only 19 percent of Pennsylvania’s legislature is female—a disappointing all-time high for the state, which also currently has no female representatives in D.C. and has never had a female senator or governor. Altogether, Pennsylvania is ranked 49th in the country for the percentage of women in elected office.
Furthermore, three representatives in the Pennsylvania legislature have been accused of sexual harassment or assault—and none have been disciplined or expelled by the speaker or majority leader. One of these representatives was accused of rape and physical assault by two women, including a fellow member of the legislature who has accused him of physically assaulting her and threatening her with a gun—claims found to be credible by an internal investigation. She was granted a protective order against him and now walks the Capitol flanked by a security guard to protect her from him; he refuses to step down, despite calls from his Republican colleagues to do so.
“After the first news story broke about a legislator who had been accused of harassment, for the first time ever they ran the House Democrats and House Republicans separately through sexual harassment training,” said Krueger-Braneky, “They flashed a slide up that had signs of a hostile workplace—inappropriate touching, comments about your appearance, sexual comments, et cetera. I raised my hand at the end of the training and said to my colleagues: ‘I want you to know that I have experienced every single thing on that slide from both Democratic and Republican colleagues.'”
Though this legislation would be a crucial win for female politicians in Harrisburg, the bill, alongside eight other bills on sexual harassment sponsored by Democratic lawmakers in the chamber, has been sitting in the House Labor and Industry Committee for six months due to opposition from Republican committee members. According to Krueger-Braneky, Majority Chairman Rob Kauffman (R-89) told her that he has no intention to move the Democratic bills at this time.
Instead, Pennsylvania Republicans are moving on H.R. 828, which would commission a year-long, tax-payer funded study examining sexual misconduct in local government—a measure Krueger-Braneky believes is an inadequate intervention. “We don’t need to study the problem,” she told Ms., “to know that harassment is an issue in our capital.”
As HR 828 moves to the House floor on Monday, Krueger-Braneky will continue to fight for the #METOO Act. “Women and all workers who are on the losing end of workplace power dynamics deserve action and change,”Krueger-Braneky wrote in an op-ed in the Daily Times, “not lip service or studies.”