Four months after the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy faded from the national spotlight, women are still citing their anger over the confirmation hearings as their main reason for joining the National Organization for Women.
Anne Arundel County's NOW membership hasgrown steadily since the Supreme Court hearings, said chapter head Jeanmarie Kolb. That's why she expects a number of women will have plenty to say about a sexual harassment bill pending before the Annapolis City Council.
A public hearing on the legislation introduced by Alderman Carl O. Snowden is scheduled for 7:30 tonight.
"I think we need something like this because there is sexual harassment," Kolb said. "With theSupreme Court hearings, a message was sent out that if you're powerful, you can get away with this. I think we want to put an end to that."
Snowden, a Democrat who represents the city's 5th Ward, said hewants to send a message, "not because it's chic or fashionable, but because it's needed," that sexual harassment won't be tolerated in Annapolis.
His proposed legislation would allow Circuit Court judgesto assess fines of up to $1,000 against people convicted of harassment, or their employers if they knowingly permitted the harassment.
The measure also would provide victims protection while seeking restitution through the Maryland Human Relations Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If the City Council approves the bill, Annapolis would become the first jurisdiction in Maryland with its own sexual harassment law.
The Annapolis Chamber of Commerce plans to oppose the bill on the grounds that federal and state laws already adequately address sexual harassment.
Jeff Rouch, a lobbyist for Nationwide Insurance, will testify at tonight's hearing before the council's economic matters committee.
"We believe Annapolis doesn't need its own law," said Penny Chandler, the chamber's executive director. "Not to say Mr. Snowden's efforts are not well-intended, butwe believe the legislation at the federal and state level is alreadyadequate."
Snowden said the legislation fills a gap between the federal and state laws. Currently, victims of sexual harassment can bring complaints to the Human Relations Commission or pursue legal action under the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress last year. But they often must wait for a long fact-finding review before they can take their case to court, Snowden said.
"If everything went right, the earliest you would get a resolution is a year," he said. "I think that's far too long."
Although Snowden introduced the measure on the heels of the confirmation hearings that riveted the nation, he said hewas influenced more by "a growing awareness that the rules of the workplace are changing." He said that that awareness played a greater role than the sexual misconduct scandal involving several Annapolis firefighters having sex on duty.
"It wasn't Clarence Thomas, it wasn't the sex scandal -- it was just the realization that this is what'sneeded for our city," he said.