Editorial: Local governments should follow state's lead on sexual harassment policies

Maryland’s legislature is taking the right steps when it comes to reporting sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and staff members.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Policy Committee, which sets the rules for the General Assembly, approved an update to the sexual harassment policy that establishes a repository for all such complaints. The changes also require an annual report be produced and made available to the public for the first time that indicates the number of sexual harassment incidents reported against Maryland lawmakers or their staff, as well as how each matter was handled and any punishment received.


The report will stop short of naming the individuals accused of harassment — citing the complaints as a personnel matter — but is a step in the right direction, since previously the General Assembly had not kept track of the number of complaints filed and the public had no way to access that information.

Changes, obviously, are reactionary to the large number of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations that have been levied in recent months against public figures in the fields of entertainment, media and politics. However, we appreciate the state’s desire to be more open about this very serious issue.

Maryland’s General Assembly implemented a sexual harassment policy in the early 1990s, after a woman accused a former lawmaker, who was seeking a judicial nomination, of inappropriate behavior.

Under the policy, each of the state’s 47 senators and 141 delegates are required to take part in anti-sexual harassment training once per four-year term. Each lawmaker and staff member is also provided with a copy of the Maryland General Assembly Workplace Harassment Policy, which they must sign they have received and read.

The policy was most recently updated a year ago, when the Legislative Policy Committee clarified that inappropriate behavior could be reported by third-party observers, that the policy also applied to harassment of transgender individuals and also designated a male staffer to receive reports of harassment in addition to a female staffer.

Harassment complaints are forwarded to the legislature’s human resources manager. If a follow-up investigation determines policy has been violated, it can then go to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which determines the punishment, ranging from a warning to expulsion.

House and Senate leadership in Annapolis, both supportive of the latest changes, have said the number of complaints are minimal, and that it was a testament to the long-standing policies in place. To this point, we have to take their word for it. Hopefully, when reports become publicly available next year, it will prove them correct.

In the meantime, we think the General Assembly is acting as a good model for local governments to consider. At the very least, in the wake of this wave of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it would be wise for local governments at the county and municipal levels to review their own policies and training procedures related to accusations of sexual misconduct. And, like the state, these local governments should create some sort of tracking system where the number of complaints and any subsequent discipline are available to be viewed by the public.

These are serious matters and should be taken seriously at every level of government, with the greatest degree of accountability to the public and to ensure a safe working environment for all.