A committee of General Assembly leaders voted new sexual harassment guidelines into effect Thursday, as the first annual report about the number of complaints in the Legislature over the past year was released – providing sparse details about 17 complaints lodged against lawmakers.
The new sexual harassment policies take immediate effect and were established through legislation passed last year in the wake of the #MeToo movement and work from an interim committee that delved deeper into the issue and recommended potential changes to State House culture.
One provision of legislation last year required an annual disclosure about the number of complaints tallied against legislators, General Assembly employees, Department of Legislative Services employees and others.
Lori L. Mathis, director of operations and support services for the Department of Legislative Services, released the statistics on discrimination complaints in the State House.
The report found that 17 complaints had been lodged against lawmakers, including 11 sexual harassment complaints. The report does not identify the lawmakers who were the source of complaints, and one lawmaker could be responsible for more than one complaint, Mathis said.
Nine of the complaints against lawmakers were sent to the legislature’s ethics committee for consideration; one complaint was referred for criminal investigation.
The total number of discrimination complaints filed within the legislature last year was 24, according to the statistics.
On Thursday, the Legislative Policy Committee formally accepted revisions to General Assembly Personnel Guidelines that lay out how sexual harassment complaints will be handled in the future. The process was set out in legislation passed last year.
Victoria L. Gruber, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services, said the new sexual harassment policies follow best practices established by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Legislative Policy Committee, consisting of top-ranking lawmakers from both chambers, also adopted on Thursday the recommendations of the Workplace Harassment Commission.
That commission, chaired by Jeanne D. Hitchcock, a former Cabinet secretary to former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), met over the interim and issued a series of recommendations to address harassment and make some changes to State House culture. Some of the commission’s recommendations, which may still require some steps before implementation, include:
- Establishing alcohol policies to ban the consumption of alcohol in the state legislative complex, except at authorized events.
- Prohibiting lawmakers from operating a district office from their homes.
- Improving awareness of anti-harassment policies by posting additional notices throughout the Capitol complex.
- Expanding training specialized for members and legislative staff.
- Requiring the Department of Legislative Services to complete biannual climate surveys of legislators and staff to assess the incidence, prevalence and other characteristics of workplace harassment.