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Md. General Assembly to create panel to examine harassment issues

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Maryland's top lawmakers will form a commission to strengthen the General Assembly's policy on sexual harassment, examining ways to prevent misconduct and how best to handle complaints, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said Tuesday.

"We're treating this matter very seriously," Miller said, referring to himself and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). "The speaker and I are going to work on a commission to come up with more stringent recommendations."

Allegations of sexual harassment have surfaced in statehouses across the country in recent months, part of a national reckoning with the issue. Several accused lawmakers have lost their jobs.

A recent Washington Post article detailed the experiences of several women in the Annapolis State House who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisal. They described enduring unwanted advances, groping and sexist comments, calling misconduct widespread.

Miller said the legislature will hear from corporate executives about what is in their anti-harassment policies and how some elements may be incorporated into the legislature's guidelines. It was not clear when the commission's hearings would begin.

Over the past year, the General Assembly's Legislative Policy Committee has changed its anti-harassment policy, including requiring the legislature's human resources director to track the number and type of harassment complaints and how they are resolved. But many women say the changes did not go far enough.

The Women Legislators of Maryland caucus created a panel over a year ago to look into how the legislature deals with harassment. The panel planned to provide a report to the General Assembly near the end of the 90-day session that begins Wednesday. Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the caucus's chair, said last week that the panel is considering ideas that would not require legislative action. Some of the possible changes include third-party reporting and having independent investigators and confidentiality in the reporting process.

Kelly said the panel may propose barring sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates or interns, adding committee chairs to the list of officials who can receive complaints and creating protections for lobbyists.

It was unclear whether the commission and the women's caucus will work together. Kelly said she welcomed the commission but did not have details on how it would work or when it would start. The women's caucus panel will continue putting together recommendations she hopes will be considered and acted upon.