Edwards Creates Group To Study Sexual Harassment Policies

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After one of his top aides resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, Gov. John Bel Edwards is creating a seven-member study group to review Louisiana's policies for handling sexual misconduct claims.

Edwards' executive order, released Wednesday, requires all executive branch agencies to review their own policies regarding sexual harassment and workplace discrimination and submit a report on them by Jan. 1.

The task force members, all of whom will be appointed by the governor, then are charged with combing through those policies, evaluating their effectiveness and suggesting changes to strengthen them and make them uniform.

The study group owes its recommendations to Edwards by March 1.

"The goal is to ensure state employees are safe at work and have the confidence in knowing that any allegation made will be taken seriously and that there are adequate procedures in place to address those complaints," the governor said in a statement.

Edwards' executive order comes after Johnny Anderson left his job as the Democratic governor's deputy chief of staff for programs and planning last month, in response to accusations of sexual harassment.

No specific claim has been released publicly, though the governor's office confirmed the allegations were made and an investigation is ongoing. The Edwards administration said it hired a contract attorney "in anticipation of litigation."

Anderson denies wrongdoing and said he intends to fight the allegations. He said he resigned to avoid becoming a "distraction" for the governor, not because of guilt.

In response to the accusations against Anderson, Louisiana's legislative auditor is conducting a similar review of state agency policies for responding to sexual harassment claims. That performance audit was requested by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said his office will compare Louisiana's policies for handling allegations to those of other states.

Hewitt questioned how Anderson was hired after he was accused of sexual harassment in 2006 when he worked as assistant chief of staff for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was chairman of the Southern University System Board of Supervisors.

Anderson was accused of sexual harassment by several university employees. He maintained his innocence, claiming the allegations were politically motivated. Blanco ordered an investigation at the time, but the lawyer who led the review said the university system didn't cooperate, making it difficult to determine if the allegations had merit, according to news media reports.

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

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