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Maryland Legislature Updates Its Sexual Harassment Policies

Maryland will track allegations of sexual harassment made against state lawmakers, and politicians who violate the state's code of conduct can be expelled from the legislature.

By Erin Cox

Maryland will track allegations of sexual harassment made against state lawmakers, and politicians who violate the state's code of conduct can be expelled from the legislature.

Leaders of the General Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to update the guidelines for reporting and tracking complaints against state lawmakers -- though the identity of the accused wrongdoer will remain confidential.

The new policies come amid a national conversation about holding accountable people accused of sexual misconduct, and they follow a tide of allegations of impropriety by high-profile men in Hollywood, the media and politics.

"This is a watershed moment in time, and we want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, that there's a place that they can go, and that there's a remedy," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said at the start of the Legislative Policy Committee meeting in Annapolis, where the new policy was approved.

This centralized tracking system will be used to generate an annual report of the number and type of allegations, as well as how they were resolved. But it will not identify the lawmakers or other legislative staffers involved because the reports will be considered a personnel matter.

The changes also include the possible referral of sexual harassment reports to ethics officials, who can recommend lawmakers be kicked out of office or otherwise reprimanded for their conduct.

Not all verified complaints will be referred to ethics officials.

Currently, complaints about lawmakers go either to the legislature's human resources department or either of the presiding officers of the General Assembly -- currently Miller or House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

Last year, the legislature updated its sexual harassment policy to allow witnesses of misconduct -- not just victims -- to report the incident.

Each of Maryland's 188 delegates and senators, all their staffs and workers for the Department of Legislative Services, receives a copy of the state's Workplace Harassment Policy and must sign a document saying they read it. Lawmakers must also attend an anti-harassment training seminar once during a four-year legislative term.

The existing policy also laid out other potential punishments for offending lawmakers, including training, counseling, reprimand, committee reassignment or "disciplinary action as determined to be appropriate under the circumstances."

The potential punishments for non-legislators include withholding of promotions or raises, temporary unpaid suspensions or firing.

Busch praised the policy as  among the best in the country. Miller said in an interview he was not aware of any current members of the Senate who have been subject to allegations of sexual impropriety.

(c)2017 The Baltimore Sun

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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