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Some Mississippi lawmakers trained against sexual harassment

Mississippi House members are taking training against sexual harassment, and Senate leaders are suggesting senators do the same.

House members were being trained Thursday in a session closed to the public, and House staff members were taking the same training in a separate session.

Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton issued a memo Thursday saying the Rules Committee is requiring all Senate employees to take a 30-minute anti-harassment course. He said the committee suggests the 52 senators also take the course on the Mississippi State Personnel Board website.

“In the environment in which we work, I believe the time has come for us to familiarize ourselves with this issue,” Burton, a Republican from Newton, said in the memo to senators and staff members.

Burton said he completed the course Thursday.

The training comes weeks after Republican Rep. John Moore of Brandon resigned. House Speaker Philip Gunn said Moore, who was Education Committee chairman, was facing sexual- harassment complaints from multiple women. Moore, however, said he was resigning for health reasons — he underwent heart bypass surgery last year — and was unaware of any sexual-harassment complaints.

Burton said Republican Sen. Tommy Gollott, who has been in the Legislature 50 years, and a staff attorney Bob Davidson, who has worked more than 40 years, don’t recall any sexual harassment complaints being filed in the state Senate.

In January 2017, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant issued an executive order requiring all state government employees to take the anti-harassment course on the Personnel Board site. His order came months after the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee against the bureau and its deputy director.

The course provides examples and definitions, noting, among other things, that “sexual harassment is not limited to members of the opposite sex.”

The course also says sexual harassment can occur among co-workers outside the office. For example, it says it could be harassment if one employee reaches over to buckle another employee’s seatbelt in a state vehicle and intentionally touches her breasts. Another example of harassment is a supervisor sending sexual text messages to a subordinate’s personal cellphone.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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