The number of sexual harassment incidents reported against Maryland lawmakers or their staffers will be made public in an annual report to a legislative committee, under an update to the General Assembly’s policy approved Tuesday.
While the report to the Legislative Policy Committee will not name anyone, it will include how each matter was handled and any punishment received by a legislator. The General Assembly previously has not kept track of the number of complaints filed against lawmakers, and the public has had no way to know how many complaints are filed. Sexual harassment investigations into state lawmakers are personal matters and not publicly available.
“Quite frankly, they’re minimal, because we require training not just of the staff members, but of the members of the Senate, the members of the House,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supported the changes, along with House Speaker Michael Busch. “Every four years, we require them to participate in sexual harassment training.”
The latest update to the legislature’s sexual harassment policy comes after a wave of allegations against national political, entertainment and media figures, as well as sexual misconduct concerns in statehouses around the country.
The General Assembly has had a sexual harassment policy since the early 1990s. The committee approved changes last year to clarify that a third-party observer of inappropriate behaviour could report it to staff members of one of the assembly’s presiding officers. Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, and Busch described the update in Maryland as an effort to keep making progress on the issue.
“We want to make this as comfortable and safe a workplace as we possibly can, and I think we look at it every year, review it every year and make sure we do that,” said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
Reports of violations will be forwarded to the legislature’s human resources manager. If an investigation supports a finding that the policy has been violated, the matter could be forwarded to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, where a lawmaker could receive a warning, reprimand, reassignment or expulsion.
Every state legislator and staff member in Maryland is provided with a copy of the Maryland General Assembly Workplace Harassment Policy, and they must affirmatively sign that they have received and read the policy.
Lori Mathis, the legislature’s human resources director, said the legislature has not used taxpayer money to settle any sexual harassment claims in Maryland. In Washington, critics have highlighted the federal government’s payment of more than $17 million in taxpayer money over the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.