Changes to CHRO Get Public Hearing
The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing this week on a lengthy bill (SB 385) that contains mainly technical updates to state statutes regarding the Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (CHRO).
Within the nearly 90 pages of the bill are some good—as well as potentially troubling—proposals to the state’s business community.
Historically, businesses have been wary of changes to CHRO statutes. It’s not uncommon for businesses dealing with complaints before the commission to feel that they were treated unfairly, or urged to settle cases just to make complainants “go away.” Others believe that the commission takes on far too many meritless cases—leading to lost time, productivity, and money.
Fortunately, things may be changing for the better in the commission. A few good signs:
- CHRO commissioners, in monthly meetings, have expressed that more cases need to be closed in order to deal with an extensive backlog
- A customer satisfaction survey last summer helped the commission identify what the public thinks about its performance in various areas
- Commission representatives have reached out to the business community for feedback on CHRO’s legislative efforts
Some of the positive changes proposed in SB 385, are in direct response to the needs of the business community.
Addressing one of those concerns, SB 385 prohibits the same person from serving in the roles of complaint investigator and mediator in CHRO cases, as happens now.
But the bill doesn’t go far enough to clarify that discussions relating to conciliation efforts between the parties involved need to be protected from disclosure between the investigator and mediator. This is critical to making sure that the parties can operate with the confidentiality needed to reach mediated agreements.
SB 385 also allows, for the first time, complainants and respondents to conduct written discovery requests–similar to the interrogatories–between parties in a civil litigation case.
CHRO always has had the power to compel the parties to provide the information it needs to reach a reasoned conclusion, but the business community is wary of extending this power to the parties themselves. Allowing this would:
- Create a more formalized, court-like process for what is supposed to be an informal administrative proceeding
- Invite “fishing expeditions” by both parties without the procedural safeguards found in court
- Add thousands of dollars in expense for parties represented by counsel
There are many other proposed changes in the bill, including some made to the timelines used in the CHRO process. The goal is to expedite the process and prevent future case backlogs.
While the business community and CHRO will continue to engage in discussions on the bill itself, the willingness of the parties to have such an extensive dialogue on legislative matters is a sign that attitudes at the commission toward business could be changing. That could help to restore the business community’s faith in an important regulatory agency.
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