Candidates should address sexual payouts

This legislative and gubernatorial election year will be dominated by campaigning dealing with the annual state-budget-preparation fiasco, cutting the size of government, saving money by other means, candidate qualifications and continued debate over issues such as whether Pennsylvania should enact a severance tax on the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling industry.

But there’s another issue — a costly one — that has remained under the radar in previous election years that also needs to be out front this time. That is the payouts tied to sexual misconduct allegations.

State voters should demand explanations from incumbents seeking re-election about why so much about that issue has been allowed to remain under wraps for years — in some cases, many years. Meanwhile, new candidates shouldn’t be left off the proverbial hook.

Voters should demand pledges from those candidates that they’ll pursue full transparency regarding that troubling issue, if they’re elected.

Truly, a beefed-up measure of transparency on that issue hasn’t been a priority at the Governor’s Office or Legislature until just recently.

In fact, it took until this month for Gov. Tom Wolf’s office to disclose that Pennsylvania paid $900,000 in 2016 to settle a workplace sexual misconduct case tied to the Department of Revenue.

As reported by The Associated Press in an article published in Tuesday’s Mirror, the case involved a woman who accused her supervisor of molesting, harassing and threatening her while she worked for the department from 2011-13. That article noted that “amid a national reckoning over sexual harassment on the job, more than $1.5 million in payouts by Pennsylvania during the last eight years have become public in recent weeks. They include a $250,000 jury award last month in a state trooper’s lawsuit.”

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that since sexual misconduct allegations broke in early October about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a wave of allegations ranging from inappropriate behavior to rape have reverberated around the British Parliament. That Journal report also indicated that Parliament had begun to overhaul its policy for handling reports of sexual harassment.

Obviously, a major overhaul is necessary in Pennsylvania as well.

Regarding incumbent lawmakers seeking re-election, voters shouldn’t hesitate to ask whether they were aware of this dirty secret in the shadows of state government and, if so, why they allowed themselves to be complicit in withholding information about the payouts from state taxpayers.

As The Associated Press also reported, this time in an article in the Dec. 24 Mirror, records now show that all three branches of Pennsylvania government have settled sexual misconduct allegations since 2010, cases that included alleged “unwelcome touching, kissing and lascivious comments.”

The AP had submitted a request to the state Office of Administration covering what the news organization described as “the large swath of state government under the governor’s jurisdiction.”

That Right-to-Know Law request yielded the information that Keystone State governmental agencies had fielded 339 reports of alleged sexual harassment during the five-year period ending last June 30. The departments with the largest number of complaints were Corrections (91), Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (60), Human Services (58) and the state police (34).

“The administration is working on an in-depth review of complaints, the nature of the complaint and how it was handled,” said Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott.

But why that didn’t happen much sooner is the relevant point begging for an answer.