AUSTIN, Texas - For some members, sexual harassment is a problem that's lurked within the halls of the Texas Capitol for too long.
"The fact that this is even coming up at all, and that there are concerns that have been expressed, would say to me 'yes we have an issue that needs to be addressed,'" said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.
On Friday the House Administration Committee acted to clamp down on that issue by adopting new sexual harassment policies for the lower chamber.
"I told them we wanted this done, and we wanted this done before the end of the year," said Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the chairman of the committee.
There are now expanded guidelines defining what sexual harassment is and new House policies requiring sexual harassment prevention training for staff. Members can't legally be obligated to take the course, but people will be able to see who undergoes the training and who doesn't.
"Records are going to be kept of who completes the training, and those records are public information. The implication of that, I think, being fairly clear," said House Ethics Advisor Jon Schnautz.
There's also a new process for filing complaints, which is a departure from the past when there was little guidance for how to deal with sexual harassment allegations.
"The complaints that have come to me, we've dug into them, and interviewed everybody that we need to, and have resolved them," Geren said.
While the House has less control over disciplining elected officials, Geren said he would support the full House punishing another lawmaker for misconduct. He also said he wants Speaker Joe Straus to appoint a working group on House sexual harassment policies to add improvements.
The new policies are the result of a two-hour conference call where female House members gave input about what they thought needed to be changed.
"Particularly, we were interested in making sure that anyone who felt that they had been harassed knew that we had a policy that had some teeth to it," Howard said.
The Lt. Governor has also asked the Senate to review its policies.