The Maryland Women’s Caucus released a set of recommendations Wednesday on how to root out and prevent sexual harassment in the Maryland General Assembly.
The bipartisan group of female lawmakers wants all legislators and staff to undergo additional and more frequent training. It also wants the legislature to hire a “sexual harassment specialist” who would track all complaints of misconduct and coordinate the enhanced training.
The caucus members propose including lobbyists in the assembly’s sexual harassment policy, which has been in place since the 1990s.
The four-page list of recommendations also suggests a consultant conduct a study every two years to measure the prevalence of sexual harassment in the state’s capital.
“This is a starting point,” said Del. Ariana Kelly, caucus chair and a Democrat from Montgomery County, after the caucus unanimously adopted the recommendations Wednesday morning.
“Anyone want to be on record as ‘opposed’?” Kelly asked her colleagues, who erupted in laughter. “OK, don’t laugh so loud,” she said.
The caucus plans to draft legislation that would set some of their ideas into law. The recommendations will be forwarded to a mostly- female commission examining how the Maryland legislature could improve the way it handles complaints of sexual harassment. The commission is set to begin meeting later this month.
The efforts come amid a national conversation about sexual assault and sexual harassment throughout Hollywood and the worlds of politics and business.
Late last year, General Assembly leaders adopted new policies to handle the tracking and resolution of sexual harassment claims against lawmakers. Before then, the legislature did not track the number of complaints that were filed, nor how they are resolved.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch announced last month they would form a new commission to evaluate whether the legislature should further shift its policies.
The women’s caucus envisions “potentially an initial increase in complaints” after the more thorough training and the more transparent complaint process they support takes effect.
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Their proposal also suggests emphasizing that bystanders can both report misconduct and intervene to stop it, as well as making clear that there are retaliation protections for anyone who reports unacceptable behavior.
Their suggestions say the state should use anonymous complaints to identify repeat offenders, and they offered a series of reforms to take the reporting and investigation of claims out of the hands of the presiding officers of the General Assembly.
Under the caucus’ recommendations, victims could make a report to a greater number of people — including caucus leaders, all committee chairs and vice chairs, and a representative of the state’s ethics panel — and all reports will be funneled confidentially to their proposed “sex harassment specialist.”
Presiding officers Miller and Busch — who are now the clearinghouse for such complaints — would only be notified at the request of the complainant and not be part of the process of investigating complaints.
The caucus recommended that the independent harassment specialist should work with the Committee on Legislative Ethics, rather than the having the committee itself conduct the investigation.
They also think lawmakers’ attendance at mandatory anti-harassment training should be a matter of public record and subject to the state’s public information laws.
The caucus also recommended expressly prohibiting sexual relationships between lawmakers and interns.