A bill that would significantly overhaul how the Maryland General Assembly deals with allegations of sexual harassment passed the House of Delegates on Monday, but its fate in the Senate remains unclear.
The legislation — which among other things would allow alleged victims of harassment to request an independent investigator and mandate anti-harassment training for lobbyists as well as lawmakers — was not expected to advance when the General Assembly session opened in January.
But a detailed report by the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus that described specific incidents of harassment and called it a persistent problem in the State House, along with personal accounts published in The Washington Post and elsewhere, appear to have given the bill momentum.
“It’s been really challenging getting to this day,” said Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), president of the women’s caucus and one of four female lawmakers who spoke publicly in recent weeks about being harassed.
Kelly told her colleagues on the House floor that the bill developed out of conversations among five female lawmakers that began in fall 2016. The women, in turn, reached out to current and former lobbyists and staffers. “We realized we had some shared similar experiences, and we thought breaking the silence would really increase our power,” Kelly said. In an interview, she added: “I’m just pleased that it’s a strong bill. . . . And I hope the Senate passes it intact.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he hasn’t looked at the bill that passed the House. He wouldn’t comment on its chances in the Senate.
He and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) set up a commission in January to review the harassment policies of all three branches of government. The panel’s final report is expected in December, and Miller previously indicated that he wanted to wait until then before changing policies. Kelly said she has not spoken to Miller about her bill since it started moving in the House but received some assurance from him last month that he was open to considering the measure.
Kelly’s bill was approved on Crossover Day, the date by which most bills need to have emerged from at least one chamber of the legislature to have a chance of becoming law.
Other bills that cleared the House included legislation supported by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that would allow judges to admit evidence of past similar sex offenses during trials of suspects accused of rape.
Under current law, prosecutors trying repeat sex offenders are not allowed to use evidence of past incidents that are not directly related to pending charges. The Senate unanimously passed its version of the bill last week.
The House also approved a bill that would make the placement of nooses and swastikas on properties without permission of the property’s owner and with the intent to intimidate a person or group of people a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
Maryland’s current hate-crime laws bar people from damaging or destroying property because of an individual’s race, color, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, national origin or because that person is homeless. But they do not include specific penalties for the placement of nooses or swastikas.
There were 93 hate-crime incidents reported in Maryland in 2016, more than double the number in 2015, according to state police data.
The House voted 90 to 48 in favor of a plan to stabilize individual health insurance premiums by taxing insurance companies and using the money to pay the biggest claims. The Senate approved a similar measure 42 to 5 on Monday night.
“What we’re doing here is putting a tourniquet on the individual market,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), who sponsored the bill.
The Senate voted 36 to 11 in favor of a bill that makes it illegal to own, use, manufacture or sell bump stocks and other rapid-trigger devices. A similar bill passed the House last week.
Senators voted 35 to 11 on a measure that would provide $3 billion in incentives and tax credits to lure Amazon.com to locate its second headquarters in Montgomery County. That bill now moves to the House. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
Senators unanimously approved a bill that asks voters to amend the state constitution to require the state’s share of casino money be spent on public schools. Hundreds of teachers rallied before the vote in favor of more education funding.
By a vote of 36 to 11, the Senate advanced a bill that increases from 10 grams to one ounce the amount of marijuana a person can posses before being charged with a crime. The Senate also approved a bill that would raise the minimum marriage age from 15 to 16 and a measure that would provide state financial aid to college students who are undocumented immigrants. That bill expands a 2012 bill that allowed students in the country illegally to receive in-state tuition.
Delegates issued a reprimand of sorts to state Comptroller Peter Franchot after months of political squabbling over regulations in the craft beer industry. Lawmakers voted to establish a task force to study whether Franchot’s agency should continue to have the power to regulate Maryland’s alcoholic beverages.
The legislation, which goes to the Senate, followed an unfavorable committee vote Friday on legislation pushed by Franchot to loosen craft beer industry regulations, which he says are overly burdensome.
Last year, Franchot convened a “Reform on Tap” task force to study the legal restrictions on the production and sale of craft beers in Maryland, which has lagged behind Virginia, the District, Pennsylvania and Delaware in terms of the size of its craft beer industry.
Many of the lawmakers on the House Economic Matters Committee thought they were not properly consulted by Franchot during the process, said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the committee.
Franchot’s longtime chief of staff said his boss’s bill died because lobbyists for the beer industry wield “disproportionate power” over lawmakers.