Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the Democratic leaders of Maryland’s General Assembly signed legislation Tuesday to overhaul sexual harassment policies in the statehouse — although they did it with less fanfare than some of the women who pushed for reform would have liked.
The legislation — signed the day after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) resigned after accusations of abuse by four women — includes a requirement that an independent investigator handle harassment complaints involving statehouse employees.
Neither Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) or House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) mentioned the bill in their opening remarks during the signing ceremony, and it was among the final dozen of the more than 200 pieces of legislation the trio signed over the course of nearly two hours.
“Today is a win,” said former legislative staffer Nina Smith, who described the harassment she experienced during emotional testimony in Annapolis in February.
But she and the bill’s co-sponsors said they wished top lawmakers had recognized past struggles to deal with sexual harassment in the General Assembly. Some have described the legislature as having a pervasive culture of misconduct.
“Acknowledging what happened is key and basic to moving forward — that’s the opportunity that was missed today,” said Smith, who works in public relations. “It’s uncomfortable, but we need to be talking about it.”
During their remarks, the state’s top leaders highlighted bills to make community college free for low- and moderate-income residents, ensure that all casino funds go to education and make it easier to punish repeat sex offenders.
Asked why leadership did not mention the anti-harassment bill, Miller said they had talked about how to address sexual misconduct “all session long.” Miller, who noted that he has four daughters and six granddaughters, said the legislation signed Tuesday is a step in the right direction.
“It’s imperative to me that we move forward on this issue,” said Miller, who has convened a separate commission to review the anti-harassment policies of all three branches of government. The commission is “working hard,” he said, and its recommendations could add to the legislation passed this session.
Smith said the Maryland legislature’s sometimes painful public conversation about harassment underscores a need to increase the number of women in elective office in the state, which has no women in its congressional delegation or top elective positions.
Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, said she felt “triumphant” that the anti-harassment bill — whose fate was initially uncertain — passed both chambers unanimously. She, too, said she wished Hogan, Miller or Busch had recognized the victory during the ceremony.
“This was not an easy bill to pass,” said Kelly, a former president of the women’s caucus who has shared her own story of being groped. Kelly said she hopes the legislation makes it easier for girls such as her daughter to enter politics.
Del. Angela M. Angel (D-Prince George’s), who also spoke publicly during the legislative session about harassment she has experienced, said she was grateful to Miller and Busch for shepherding the legislation to passage.
She said she believes that many lawmakers who have engaged in harassment are still in office — “so you can’t talk about this.”
Whether the new law inspires those lawmakers to change remains to be seen, she added.
Via Washington Post
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