Former Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, gave the Legislature a black eye in 2017 when Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, publicly accused him of groping her. The black eye only got worse in the months following.

Brad Avakian, then head of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, began an investigation into charges that Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, had covered up a “generally hostile environment based upon sex” in the capitol. He sought records from the pair and had to go to court to get them. At the time, the two argued that they wanted to keep the records secret in an effort to protect people who had complained about unwanted attention.

That’s the same argument that’s being used to support House Bill 2859. The measure gives lawmakers something not available to any other entity in Oregon. If the measure were to pass as initially written, complaints against lawmakers could be kept secret. Those doing the complaining generally would remain anonymous, as would those against whom complaints were made. The Harvey Weinsteins of the world couldn’t have done a better job keeping their behavior secret.

The bill itself was submitted as a committee bill — the work of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Capitol Culture. No legislator apparently wants to claim credit for giving the Legislature a special legal privilege to conceal harassment complaints. What a surprise.

Nor does the public. That public has a right to know if their elected officials understand the basic tenets of acceptable behavior (or are the moral equivalent of slugs).

The public also has the right to expect that laws that apply to non-members of the Legislature also apply to lawmakers. This bill should be defeated.

22572509