Three Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers said they plan to file proposed legislation that would require the state’s transparency portal to include payment information on settlements paid out on claims of harassment against state employees.
The announcement comes two months after the Joint State Government Commission released a Legislature-requested study on claims of sexual harassment and misconduct in state offices. The study revealed nearly 600 harassment claims were made over a five-year period, with the state paying nearly $2 million to settle cases.
In June 2018, the state House voted 172-20 in favor of state Rep. Sheryl Delozier’s resolution to request the study. State Rep. Marcy Toepel, R-Gilbertsville, a co-sponsor of Delozier’s resolution, told The Center Square on Thursday that lawmakers at the time did not know how many complaints were filed or how many taxpayer dollars were spent to settle claims.
Often lawmakers heard about such settlements through news media reports, she added.
The study “didn’t make any direct legislative recommendations, but my sense was that we shouldn’t have to require a report to uncover settlements made by state agencies,” said Toepel, who will be the primary sponsor of the bill.
The bill calls for using PennWATCH to include information on any settlement payment made by a state agency. That includes offices in the legislative, judicial and executive branches. While the initial study behind the bill looked at sexual harassment claims, Toepel’s bill would cover any settlement and identify what type of claim was made.
PennWATCH was created in 2011. It is an online database that provides the public with information on state revenues and expenditures, including payments made by agencies, budget appropriations and public employee compensation.
“Since it’s taxpayer money involved in these settlements, PennWATCH was a perfect vehicle” for the reports, she said.
However, Toepel said the bill will take steps to protect a claimant’s privacy, especially in instances involving sexual harassment. So specific details about the incident and any action the agency may take to remedy the claim or prevent future occurrences will not be included in PennWATCH’s reporting.
A memo Toepel sent to lawmakers this week listed Delozier, R-Camp Hill, and state Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, as co-sponsors of the bill. Since then, the list of sponsors has grown to about 12 she said.
It’s an all-Republican list so far, but Toepel said she’s talked with some Democrats who have expressed interest in the bill, which gives her hope for bipartisan support.
The plan is to file the bill sometime after the General Assembly reconvenes in September.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll get a committee vote on it pretty quickly,” she said.