HARRISBURG (WSKG) — On the heels of recent Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stories on alleged sexual harassment by state lawmakers, a number of officials are calling for a change.
The latest story concerns 40-year veteran lawmaker Thomas Caltagirone, a Berks County Democrat.
The House Democratic caucus paid a quarter million taxpayer dollars to settle a harassment complaint a staffer made against him. A non-disclosure agreement kept the whole thing under wraps.
A few weeks before that was reported, fellow House Democrat Leanne Krueger-Braneky, of Delaware County, said a different news story made her realize the settlements were happening and being kept secret.
She introduced a bill to stop the practice.
“I was angry,” she said. “I do not think that we should have nondisclosure agreements that mask the names of people in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that are found to have harassed staff. Period.”
Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, as are several other harassment-related bills in both chambers.
Caltagirone has maintained his innocence amid calls from Governor Tom Wolf and others to step down.
“I wanted my day in court but counsel implored the parties to settle because of the high cost of litigating any complaint, legitimate or not,” he said in a statement.
All told, in the last decade House Democrats spent over half a million dollars to settle staff disputes.
In a statement, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said he wishes he could divulge more of the specifics of the claims, but he legally can’t.
“The House Right to Know Officer is in the process of reviewing more than 30 different Right to Know Law requests for a variety of different documents,” he said. “The caucus’ responsive documents will be released to those requesters in due course. It is also important to note that some of these matters involve former employees who are now private citizens and we need to be mindful of their privacy rights as well.”
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale–himself a former House Democrat–has offered to audit legislative accounts for other such payments.
Senate Democrats are also grappling with harassment charges, with Montgomery County Progressive Daylin Leach having been accused of repeated inappropriate behavior with women. The governor has called for his resignation as well, though he has made no indication he intends to step down.
According to a memo sent to members and staff, the Senate has since amended its sexual harassment policy to, among other things, route complaints through its chief clerk’s office, and not through elected officials.