ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland legislative women’s caucus released its recommendations on Wednesday to strengthen the state legislature’s policy regarding sexual harassment.
One of the biggest changes would create an independent investigator to examine complaints. The caucus also is recommending that the legislature increase the number of people to whom complaints can be reported. It also wants to expand the policy, which the General Assembly has had since the early 1990s, to cover lobbyists, not just lawmakers.
“We want to see the best policy in the nation. We want to see the safest environment free of harassment in the country in terms of a state legislature and in order to get there this is what we think we need to do, so we’re going to have legislation,” said Del. Ariana Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat and president of the caucus.
The 60-member caucus is recommending more in-depth training for lawmakers about sexual harassment that includes vignettes specific to the legislative environment. The group also is recommending the hiring of a human resources professional with expertise in sexual harassment to help with increased training responsibilities and to better track complaints.
Kelly said she hopes some of the changes will be accomplished by the Legislative Policy Committee, a panel of lawmakers that sets policies for the General Assembly.
In December, the committee approved making the number of sexual harassment incidents reported against Maryland lawmakers or their staff public in an annual report. That report will not name anyone.
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.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch announced a new commission last month that will be studying the issue as well. Kelly said the recommendations of the caucus are specific to the legislature, while the commission is looking more broadly at policies affecting all three branches of state government.
“So they have a much broader scope. We really narrowed in for 18 months on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the legislature,” Kelly said.