The New Hampshire House of Representatives has been an amazing repository for good ideas lately. In December, we had that fun incident where a female state rep was harassed by her male colleagues for condemning a sexist bill. Now, we have a couple of state reps bravely taking a stance against a new harassment policy, which they feel would cramp their fondness for jokey harassment. Live free, indeed!

The following very rewarding email exchange was leaked to Jezebel; it concerns a new policy for both the state House and Senate, specifically outlining what sexual and other forms of harassment are, and why you shouldn’t do them to your colleagues.

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The policy, which is entirely sane and which we’ve attached below, was approved January 5 by a Joint Legislative Facilities Committee. Each member of the House and Senate is being asked to sign it. At least one of them doesn’t wanna.

The email exchange, begun by Terry Pfaff, the House Chief of Staff:

From: Pfaff, Terry
Sent: Thursday, January 14, 2016 4:05 PM
To: ~All Representatives
Subject: General Court Policy Against Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination

Dear Members of the House:

Attached please find the General Court’s new Policy Against Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination, which was approved by the Joint Committee on Legislative Facilities on January 5, 2016.

Please read the entire policy carefully and return the last page with your signature to Legislative Accounting in Room 113 of the State House. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Yours in good government,

[SIGNATURE-PFAFF (2)]

Terence R. Pfaff
House Chief of Staff

Not so fast, shouted State Representative John Burt, in email form. Burt, who resides in Goffstown, New Hampshire and represents the state’s 39th district, is worried the policy cuts into his funny jokes and is, moreover, “Political Correctness gone wrong.”

From: Burt, John
Sent: Thursday, January 14, 2016 7:40 PM
To: Pfaff, Terry; ~All Representatives
Subject: RE: General Court Policy Against Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination


Dear House Members, With NO disrespect to the committee or Chief of Staff,

I ask you please do not sign this. Below on page 3 would stop all of my speeches. This is Political Correctness gone wrong.

Page 3 second paragraph: “Employees and members need to be concerned not only with the intent of their actions, but also the effects of their actions on the receiver. Even unintentional conduct (including conduct that is intended as a “joke”) can be a violation of this Policy.”

When the Democrat member last year said, “I think we should euthanize all elderly” or close to that, I wanted to hear him say that. That way I know what the member is really thinking. When a Republican member brought up Plan Parenthood and said their mascot should be the red tail hawk, I wanted to hear that so I know what the member is really thinking. When I said last Wednesday that hunting husbands can go deaf and not hear their wives talking to them, I meant no harm by that. It was a joke. But under the part on page 3, I would be in trouble if one person found it offensive which one or two did.

I am offended when members lie on the House floor but I want to hear those lies so I can then make a vote based on the true speech of the member. If they are not allowed to speak their minds, that will not be good for the citizens of NH, the people that elected me and you.

Former State Representative Steve Vaillancourt told me at orientation January 2011 to be nice to all members because who you are fighting with today may be your best buddy another day. I live by that advice.

Again I ask you not to sign this and here is why, my friend Rep Baldasaro asked me to include this,

[Art.] 30. [Freedom of Speech.] The freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in either house of the legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any action, complaint, or prosecution, in any other court or place whatsoever.

Thank you for your time and God Bless NH and America,
John

Representative John A. Burt
Criminal Justice Committee
Goffstown, Weare and Deering, NH
District 39

Burt is referring to two incidents last year. In one, a state rep, in the midst of a debate on serious budget cuts to programs for disabled people, angrily suggested that perhaps the next step would be euthanizing them. The other is when a lawmaker turned a cute little bill written by fourth-graders into a very weird joke (?) about abortion.

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The section of the policy he’s talking about actually clarifies, in language that is probably second nature to a lot of full-grown adults, what harassment means:

Examples of prohibited harassment include, but are not limited to, conduct orcomments that threaten physical violence; offensive, unsolicited remarks; unwelcomegestures or physical contact that relates to any of the characteristics listed above; display orcirculation of degrading written or electronic materials, cartoons or images; and verbal abuseor insults.

As well as sexual harassment:

Prohibited sexual harassment includes a wide range of behavior from the actual coercion ofsexual relations to include unwelcome offensive comments, jokes, innuendo and othersexually oriented statements and unwelcome behavior emphasizing sexual identity. Indirector unintentional conduct may violate this policy as well.

And also, why this matters: because workplace harassment is illegal, dummies, and it makes people feel bad.

The purpose of this Policy is to ensure that in the workplace, no employee or member issubjected to harassment or discrimination. Harassment may be indirect and evenunintentional. Violations of this Policy, whether intended or not, will not be permitted. Theconduct prohibited by this Policy includes conduct in any form including but not limited to e-mail, voicemail, chat rooms, internet use or history, text messages, pictures, images, writings,words or gestures including personal one-on-one contacts.

Employees and members need to be concerned not only with the intent of their actions, butalso the effects of their actions on the receiver. Even unintentional conduct (includingconduct that is intended as a “joke”) can be a violation of this Policy.

Burt, we are delighted to note here, is a member of the House Criminal Justice Committee.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper also got involved, exasperatedly reminding Burt that this entire thing is clearly and obviously meant to protect the state from getting sued:

From: Jasper, Shawn <Shawn.Jasper@leg.state.nh.us>
Date: Thu, Jan 14, 2016 at 10:53 PM
Subject: RE: General Court Policy Against Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination
To: “Burt, John” <John.Burt@leg.state.nh.us>, “Pfaff, Terry” <Terry.Pfaff@leg.state.nh.us>, ~All Representatives <HReps@leg.state.nh.us>


I am not even sure where to begin, in the first place speech on the floor of the House is constitutionally protected, the policy itself references that constitutional protection ( see below), we all know or should know that only the House itself can take any action against a member for what is said on the floor. This policy does not and cannot apply to speeches made on the floor of the House or Senate. The only reason that members are asked to sign the policy is to show that each of you have read it (see below), not to suggest that you agree with the policy or that you even intend to comply with it. If a complaint is made against a member and even if it was found that the policy had been violated, only the House could take action against that member, relative to the office. As we all should understand employees and members can take action against the state as well as other individuals and be held liable for illegal activities. It would be unconscionable for us not to have a policy designed to protect our employees and members from illegal behavior in the work place. If you do not wish to acknowledge that you have read the policy, there is no action that can be taken. In the event that if there is any action taken against the General Court (which has happened in the past) we have now shown that we have a policy in place and have asked our members to acknowledge that they received and read of the policy. As elected officials we should all want to help protect the state from liability, when the state is not at fault.

Shawn N. Jasper, Speaker
NH House of Representatives
State House, Room 311
107 North Main St.
Concord, NH
Shawn.Jasper@leg.state.nh.us

It’s not clear whether Burt ever replied. In all, though, a solid glimpse into the crucial issues being debated by the people New Hampshire taxpayers give their money to.

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We’ll leave you with an episode of John Burt’s public access show, only to showcase its amazing intro, featuring photos of Rep. Burt against a stars-and-stripes background and phrases like “John Burt is for personal freedoms.”

The full harassment policy:

General Court Harassment Policy 2016


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.

Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: 67B5 5767 9D6F 652E 8EFD 76F5 3CF0 DAF2 79E5 1FB
Image via YouTube/John Burt

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