(Oklahoma City) Governor Frank Keating should intervene on behalf of an anti-sexual harassment bill now stalled in the State House, according to the State Senate author of the legislation.
Senator Brad Henry believes that SB 1594 could be revived if Governor Keating would urge House Republicans to support the measure, instead of voting against it as they did on Monday.
The bill was defeated on a 43-55 vote, but remains alive on a motion to reconsider. The vast majority of the "no" votes were cast by Republican legislators.
"It's amazing that in the year 2002 we still have to debate whether sexual harassment has any place in our society. Governor Keating should use his influence to get this bill back on track to protect all Oklahomans from sexual harassment," said the Shawnee legislator.
SB 1594 would close a loophole that allows Oklahoma businesses with less than 15 employees to be exempt from federal and state sexual harassment prohibitions. The bill would simply state that Oklahoma public policy prevents and prohibits all forms of sexual harassment in such small businesses. State court rulings have held that current anti-sexual harassment laws do not apply to such establishments.
"Under the current system, if you operate a small business in Oklahoma, you basically have a license to sexually harass your employees at will. That's crazy, of course, but unfortunately, that's the way the law is administered in Oklahoma. We can strike a major blow for equal treatment in the workplace by passing this one small bill," said Sen. Henry.
Although SB 1594 was approved on a unanimous 43-0 vote in the State Senate several weeks ago, it was defeated in the House Monday, thanks in large part to a misinformation campaign engineered by the State Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials have told legislators that the measure will increase lawsuits and harm small businesses.
Senator Henry disagrees, saying the state chamber is employing scare tactics to get its way.
"According to the state chamber, if you're against sexual harassment, you're anti-business. That's laughable, but that's the misinformation that they're circulating. I think opponents of this legislation should ask themselves how they would feel if it was their daughter or wife or mother who was the target of sexual harassment. Let's reject the scare tactics, act responsibly and approve this bill," said Sen. Henry.
SB 1594 will remain alive in the House on a motion to reconsider until Thursday. If it is not approved by then, it will be dead for the legislative session.