This month marks a year since the Me Too movement went viral as a hashtag on social media (after having first been started in 2006 by Tarana Burke.) This week, we hear from several women in Illinois whose work in government has been affected.
Today we hear from State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake, which is in the Chicago area. Bush is a member of the Senate Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention, as well as one of the three members of the Illinois Anti-Harassment Equality and Access Panel which focused its work on bettering conditions for campaign staffers (read its findings and recommendations here.) For a list of #MeToo related measures within state government, click here.
Bush sponsored one measure in particular meant to overhaul the process and role of the Legislative Inspector General, a position that had gone unfilled for two years, that's meant to handle claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within the statehouse. It was signed into law, and in this interview, she tells us more about it:
On the resignation of former State Rep. Nick Sauer after claims from an ex-girlfriend that he shared her nude photographs
I think due process is really important. But I also think that when you are an elected official, you are held to higher standards. So I called for him to step down. His party immediately called for him to step down. I believe there was enough there that that was merited. If he is found guilty, I hope that he serves time in jail or pays his debt to society.
I think parties are right to call on accused members to step down. We've seen it on both sides of the aisle. We've seen it happen really quickly in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party over this last year. I've got to tell you, that wasn't happening before Me Too. So I do understand the need to make sure there's a due process. But until that due process takes place, I believe these people should be stepping down.
On changes to the way claims of sexual harassment are dealt with within the statehouse
We have a task force that is still working, a task force looking at sexual harassment and how we do a better job under the dome.
We were able to pass a House Bill 138 on the last day of session.
It allows the Inspector General to investigate claims independently. They don't have to get approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission any longer, which is really important. We want that office to be independent. It also requires that that position can't be open for any longer than 45 days, and creates a search committee that has former judges and prosecutors who will search for and recommend an Inspector General to the Ethics Commission. It also allows complaints to be filed with the Executive Ethics Commission regarding lobbyists and sexual harassment. And it extends the statute of limitations for filing a discrimination or sexual harassment claim from 180 days to 300 days.
On the outlook ahead
I think that women are going to stand steadfast in making sure that our voices are heard and that women are an equal part of our representation. I believe real change culturally will take place when we have more women there. It just makes sense, we're 51% of the population. I think you can take a look at how political parties and employers are dealing with serious accusations. They're moving swiftly and they are taking action.
Interview segments have been edited for length and clarity.