Women who work in the Maryland statehouse say sexual harassment is rampant there and have accused the General Assembly of not doing enough to create an environment where women feel comfortable filing complaints.
Last month, the legislative policy committee ordered the General Assembly's human resources director to begin keeping track of the number and type of harassment complaints and how the complaints are resolved.
"We have tried to stay ahead of the curve in implementing national best practices in the Maryland General Assembly to prevent harassment of any kind," House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in a statement announcing the commission. "This esteemed panel will help us continue to push forward to make this the safest legislative workplace in the country."
The Women Legislators of Maryland caucus is preparing its own recommendations on training, reporting, accountability, prevention and transparency, with a goal of shifting the culture in Annapolis and holding violators accountable.
Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), who is president of the women's caucus and has publicly shared her experience of being sexually harassed, said those recommendations will be forwarded to Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). Kelly said she looks forward to working with the newly appointed commission to address harassment issues.
On Wednesday, the women's caucus gave preliminary approval to recommendations that include increasing the training lawmakers receive on appropriate workplace behavior, expanding the list of officials and staffers in the legislature who can receive initial reports of harassment, and hiring an "in-house expert" to conduct training and track complaints.
The commission announced Wednesday that it expected to review state policies, solicit input from business leaders and policy experts, hear public testimony and make recommendations to the legislative policy committee, which is chaired by Miller and Busch.
They would refer any recommendations for the executive office and the judiciary to the governor and the chief judge, respectively, said Alexandra Hughes, Busch's chief of staff.
Miller said the commission is not expected to "supplant anything the women's caucus is doing. . . . Hopefully they will dovetail with each other."
The commission is made up of 12 women and two men who have experience in the public and private sectors. It is chaired by Jeanne Hitchcock, who served as appointments secretary and chief legislative officer in the O'Malley administration. Hitchcock has also served as a deputy mayor in Baltimore, an assistant attorney general and chief operating officer with the national office of the NAACP.
The panel also includes Lisa Jackson, a lobbyist; Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Mary Keating, a labor lawyer; Amanda La Forge, an attorney; Celestine Morgan, former executive director of the Baltimore County Human Relations Commission; Mike Morrill, who served as state director for former U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D); Peggy Naleppa, a former health-care executive; Susan Russell, former counsel to a state Senate committee; Elisabeth Sachs, a public policy consultant; Sophia Silbergeld, membership director for a business group in the Baltimore region; and James N. Robey, a former senator from Howard County.
The commission is slated to hold its first meeting on Feb. 16.