Maryland’s legislature is set to start tracking sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and their staff members, as statehouses across the country confront mounting allegations of sexual misconduct and examine their policies for dealing with them.
The General Assembly plans to update its sexual harassment policy to require the legislature’s human resources director to keep track of the number and type of complaints and how they were resolved. Lawmakers would be briefed on this information every year — but would not be given the identities of the alleged harassers.
The changes are expected to win approval from a legislative policy committee meeting Tuesday, said Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). The committee sets rules for the General Assembly.
“The speaker and the Senate president have tried to be ahead of the curve and have tried to make sure we have as professional of a workplace as we can,” Hughes said. “They felt this is an important step forward.”
Currently, Human Resources Director Lori Mathis investigates complaints of inappropriate behavior but does not track the number of complaints or their outcomes or report that data to lawmakers.
"Because of the wide array of reporting and resolving mechanisms for alleged incidents of harassment, no agency of the MGA maintains summary statistics of workplace harassment reports or complaints; nor are such summary statistics kept of sexual harassment reports," Mathis told The Washington Post in response to a public-records request.
“All individual cases of harassment, including sexual harassment investigations conducted by the MGA, are personnel matters. No aspect of any personnel file is available under the Public Information Act.”
People who say they have been sexually harassed by Maryland lawmakers or employees of the legislature can lodge complaints with the staffs of the presiding officers, Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), or with the human resources department.
Mathis notifies Busch and Miller when her office receives allegations against lawmakers. Busch and Miller — who play a role in deciding how to discipline lawmakers found to have behaved inappropriately — also handle any appeals of Mathis's findings.
Some cases involving lawmakers may be referred to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, whose investigative records are kept confidential under state law. Allegations of sexual assault or other suspected criminal conduct would be referred to prosecutors, Mathis said.
Mathis said the General Assembly has not used taxpayer money to settle any claims of workplace harassment.
Such settlements have come under scrutiny in Congress in recent weeks, after reporters unearthed taxpayer-funded payments to accusers of Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who resigned last week, and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.).
Harassment allegations have also made waves in state capitals, with accused lawmakers in California, Mississippi, Minnesota and Kentucky giving up their seats.
The Maryland General Assembly's sexual harassment policy was created in the early 1990s, after a former lawmaker's judicial nomination was derailed by women who came forward to allege inappropriate behavior.
Legislative leaders updated the policy last year to clarify that it applied to harassment of transgender individuals and that witnesses to sexual harassment — not just victims — may report it. Officials also designated a male staffer to receive reports of harassment, in addition to a female staffer.
Hughes said the legislature made those changes following the harassment allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In Virginia, the clerk of the state Senate told The Post last month that she has not received a sexual harassment report since starting her job in 1990. The Virginia House of Delegates investigated a harassment complaint against a staff member in 2012, its human resources director said.