The Maryland General Assembly ended its session this week with approval of House Bill 1342, legislation aimed at strengthening policies for the investigation and resolution of sexual harassment complaints involving members of the State lawmaking community. The Bill is designated emergency legislation. If Governor Hogan signs as expected, it will become effective immediately.
A report released earlier this year by the Maryland Women’s Caucus contained troubling accounts of perceived harassment within the State lawmaking community. Contributors, who remained anonymous, compared the legislative environment to “a fraternity house,” and recounted incidents of unwanted touching and retaliation for advances rejected. The report offered recommendations for eliminating the pervasive behaviors, including improved training, reporting, accountability, and an overall culture shift with strong leadership from the top down. A number of these proposals are reflected in House Bill 1342.
Key provisions of the Bill include:
- Prohibition on State officials and lobbyists discriminating against or harassing officials or employees; interns, pages, and fellows in any branch of State government; regulated lobbyists; and credentialed members of the press
- Requirement for the General Assembly to review and update its harassment policies every two years
- Requirement to refer complaints alleging violations of the General Assembly’s Anti-harassment Policy, or retaliation for reporting harassment or participating in an investigation, to an independent investigator, absent objection by the complainant
- Prohibition on using taxpayer money to settle lawsuits involving sexual harassment complaints
- Requirement to conduct harassment training, and publish and retain records demonstrating compliance