The sexual harassment policy for the Hawaii House of Representatives has no recourse for people who may be victimized by the speaker.
The policy lays out a process for dealing with complaints involving sexual harassment. But the responsibility of disciplining perpetrators lies with the speaker, and there’s no explicit description of what happens if the speaker is the accused.
That’s partly why Rachael Wong, former director of the Department of Human Services, felt she had nowhere to turn after she says she experienced sexual harassment from then-Speaker Joseph Souki in 2015. Wong is one of multiple women who filed ethics complaints against Souki.
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission concluded Wednesday that Souki had likely violated the law and ordered him to resign and pay a fine.
The commission’s decision underscores the gaps in Hawaii’s internal House policy. The policy doesn’t explicitly say that the speaker needs to be notified of every complaint. But House Clerk Brian Takeshita says he always lets the speaker know about complaints as a matter of practice.
“That is a very good question,” Takeshita said when asked Tuesday about the process for handling a complaint against the Speaker. “Honestly I’m not exactly sure how we would handle that.”
Takeshita later conferred with attorneys and said that the Vice Speaker would likely be in charge of handling such complaints. House Speaker Scott Saiki issued a press release Wednesday morning saying that the House would review its workplace policies.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says that sexual harassment policies should include “a diversity of contacts within the legislature to whom sexual harassment can be reported, allowing the complainant to bypass reporting to his or her direct supervisor.” Hawaii’s policy, which has been in place for the past decade, allows people to bypass their supervisors but always involves the speaker or his designee, the House Clerk.
In Colorado, state lawmakers considered paying an independent consultant to review their workplace harassment policy, the Denver Post reported. In Maryland, representatives specified that lobbyists are included under the sexual harassment policy.
Takeshita says that people who work at the Legislature but aren’t employed there — lobbyists, for instance — are able to file complaints under the House’s existing policy, although they aren’t explicitly mentioned in it.
There have been three official sexual harassment complaints against representatives over the past decade and none resulted in suspension or termination.