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Maryland delegates approve new way to investigate sexual harassment claims in legislature

The Maryland House of Delegates on Monday unanimously approved reforms to the process for investigating sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers, legislative staffers and lobbyists.

Del. Ariana Kelly, who leads the House women’s caucus, said the policy was borne out of conversations among five female lawmakers in 2016, when “we realized we had some shared, similar experiences” with harassment around the State House. Their efforts gained momentum with the #MeToo movement, she said.

“We realized there were things we could do better to prevent sexual harassment,” she said on the House floor.

The proposed legislation requires the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics to hire an independent counsel if a person is the subject of multiple accusations.

The proposal dovetails with changes passed late last year to bring more transparency to the process of reporting and investigating harassment accusations.

It comes as the legislature deals with the aftermath of an accusation by Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, that former lawmaker and current lobbyist Gil Genn recently touched her inappropriately at a karaoke event in Annapolis. Genn has denied the allegation.

As a House committee was considering the legislation, three delegates told their colleagues they had personally been victims of sexual harassment. They said the reforms would take politics out of the process of reviewing and investigating harassment complaints.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill has not advanced out of committee.

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