Local legislators differ on release of Capitol sex-harassment papers

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Frank Schultz
Friday, December 1, 2017

MADISON -- One local state legislator thinks documents about sexual harassment in the state Capitol should remain secret.

Others say the public should know some details about such incidents in the Legislature.

Rep. Any Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said in a statement that she supports the decision of Assembly leaders to withhold records related to sexual harassment or misconduct.

Loudenbeck said her reasons are the same as those identified by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which has expressed concern that even with redactions, victims could be identified.

“I understand the need for transparency and accountability for the perpetrator, but I believe our first concern needs to be the safety and privacy of the victim or informant,” Loudenbeck said.

Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, partially agreed with Loudenbeck.

“My No. 1 issue is that the victims' identities are protected,” Ringhand said.

But she went on to say: “As long as the information that could potentially identify them isn't released, then I support the information being made public in the interest of transparency and accountability.”

Assembly and Senate leaders have said they oppose releasing information on sexual harassment cases.

“The decision to publicly share deeply personal and often difficult experiences should remain with the victims of sexual assault and harassment,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling, D-La Crosse, as quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal. “Anyone who wants to come forward and speak publicly about their own personal story will continue to have my full support.”

The State Journal says it has been denied access to sexual harassment records by clerks of the Senate and Assembly.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz have said the records shouldn't be released, even in redacted form, to protect people's privacy.

Vos said there hasn't been a sexual harassment settlement in the Assembly since he became speaker in 2011.

Loudenbeck said she would have no problem letting the public know how many complaints have been received over a period of years and similar “aggregate data.”

Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton, said he believes people have a right to know what goes on in their Legislature.

Vruwink said he'd like to see released the number of complaints and descriptions of each complaint so the public and those who might be considering jobs with the Legislature would know what happens there.

“If it is going on, the public has a right to know,” Vruwink said.

Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, said Nass' position is that anytime a settlement is paid with tax dollars, the complaints should be released, but victims should have the right to have their names redacted.

Releasing victims' names would have a chilling effect, keeping other victims from coming forward, Mikalsen said.

If investigators do not find wrongdoing, neither the names of the complainant nor the accused should be released, Mikalsen added, saying that Nass would support a policy that protects both parties.

Nass also supports releasing the number of complaints.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, said she could not give an answer because she doesn't know the intricacies of the laws that define employees' rights in these situations.

Kolste said she has been at a health-care conference in San Diego the past two days and has not kept up with developments in Madison.

The Gazette called the offices of representatives Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva. They did not respond.

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