For the last few months, the #MeToo movement has gradually grown stronger within the Maryland General Assembly, a place not only known for its lawmakers, but also for its longstanding acceptance of sexual harassment among its members.
Female lawmakers, staff members and interns within the General Assembly for years have dealt with awkward, uncomfortable and abusive situations that can only be considered flat-out sexual harassment. Recently, the Maryland House of Delegates took a bolder step to protect its own and send a message to the rest of the state: sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
House bill passes unanimously
On March 19, the House unanimously voted to strengthen the General Assembly's policies on sexual harassment. The bill - which passed on a 138-0 vote - included recommendations from the legislature's 60-member women's caucus and addresses two big changes. They include:
- Prohibiting lobbyists from harassing fellow lobbyists, lawmakers, interns, pages and others who work in Maryland's executive and legislative branches.
- Allowing the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics to refer sexual harassment complaints to an independent investigator. (Currently, complaints are filed with the legislature's human resources department or assembly leadership.)
The bill - sponsored by Delegate Ariana Kelly - still must be reviewed in Maryland's Senate.
Women caucus members shared similar stories
The bill's origins date back to November 2016 when initial discussions took place among members of Maryland's women caucus who found they shared similar experiences with sexual harassment. They also were outraged by a recent video of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump making lewd comments about women.
The female lawmakers created a special working group to review sexual harassment incidents that took place at the Capitol, interviewing victims, researching what other states were doing, and putting together their recommendations.
The cultural shift that has slowly taken shape in the U.S. has finally made an appearance within the walls of our Capitol in Annapolis. There's no room in our state for sexual harassment, and that includes within the General Assembly.