SALT LAKE CITY — A bill requiring lobbyists to take an annual course in avoiding harassment in the workplace passed the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday.
"The state is an employer and has a responsibility to provide for a safe workspace for those that are here," the sponsor of HB110, Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, told the committee.
He said lobbyists, who already must register with the state, file disclosure statements and wear special ID badges, would have to take the same online course as lawmakers do annually as "a reminder how to respectfully treat others."
Peterson, the chairman of the committee, said he had been asked to carry the bill by the Legislature's general counsel because of concerns the state could be held liable for misconduct by lobbyists.
But Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, questioned whether that was the case.
"That seems like a stretch to me," Nelson, an attorney, said, suggesting the bill "could create liability where none exists." He asked if similar training would be extended to others who come to the Capitol, including visitors.
Peterson said there are discussions underway about other groups.
Adam Brown, a BYU political science professor who serves as faculty supervisor for that university's legislative intern program, urged support for the bill and referred to recent news reports of past issues.
Students, Brown said, see a legislative internship as "having a life-changing experience." He said while that "should only ever be for all the right reasons," occasionally it happens for the wrong reason.
But longtime lobbyist Jeff Hartley testified against the bill, saying it unfairly singles out lobbyists. He said it's "easy for the Legislature to use lobbyists" to advance ethics reform.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said lawmakers have an obligation to take action, citing the #MeToo movement.1 comment on this story
"We know we have things occurring on the Hill," Perry said. He said rather than require training, lawmakers could have taken a more "draconian" approach and mandate that lobbyists be watched "like hawks."
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, backed the bill, noting she was a member of the interim committee that heard and rejected similar legislation during the interim session.
"We have an obligation to protect our employees," Arent said, from not just sexual harassment but also unwelcome conduct based on religion, pregnancy and age — issues she said she has dealt with as an intern, legislative attorney and lawmaker.
The committee voted 6-3 to advance the bill to the full House.