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Three female Md. lawmakers describe harassment, call for independent investigator

Maryland Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the president of the women’s caucus, sponsored legislation that calls for an independent investigator to handle some sexual harassment complaints.
Maryland Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the president of the women’s caucus, sponsored legislation that calls for an independent investigator to handle some sexual harassment complaints. (Evelyn Hockstein)
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Three female lawmakers told a legislative panel in Annapolis on Monday that they’ve experienced sexual harassment while in office and called for an independent investigator to handle harassment complaints in the Maryland General Assembly.

Dels. Angela M. Angel (D), District 25, Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery) and Marice I. Morales (D), District 19, each spoke of being grabbed, touched or treated inappropriately, without giving details or naming the perpetrators.

They asked the House Rules Committee to approve legislation, backed by the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus, that calls for an independent investigator, creates procedures for complaints involving lobbyists and requires the Office of Legislative Services to keep records on anti-harassment training of lawmakers and legislative staff.

Currently, harassment complaints must be filed either with the General Assembly’s office of human resources or the presiding legislative officers or their staff, and can be referred for investigation to the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics.

“We’re not here to shame anybody or to call names, we just want to find an end to this,” said Morales, a freshman lawmaker who sounded near tears. “This happened to me personally. . . . I can’t tell you how many times I have had to call a colleague out and say ‘this is not appropriate’. ”

Del. Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery), who also spoke in favor of the bill, recalled watching a former member of the General Assembly “begin to fondle a freshman delegate” in 2011, his first year in the legislature.

He said he and another colleague, also a freshman, did not know what to do. They asked their female colleague if she was okay and ultimately decided not to do anything because they were all worried about how speaking up might affect the female lawmaker’s career.

Angel told the panel she chose to talk publicly because she refuses “to remain an accomplice” to what she described as a pervasive culture of misconduct.

The rules panel did not vote Monday on whether to move the bill out of committee for consideration by the full House of Delegates.

Maryland is one of many states struggling with how to address workplace sexual harassment in the #MeToo era. Over the past couple of years the General Assembly has made some policy changes, but lawmakers, advocates and experts who testified on Monday said more needs to be done.

“The time is now,” said Kelly, president of the women’s caucus and the bill sponsor, who has written in The Washington Post about being groped. “People are paying attention like never before, and they are going to hold us accountable.”

Kelly said legislative staffers have told her they are afraid to report harassment and misconduct for fear of jeopardizing not only their own careers but also those of the delegates and senators they work for.

On Friday, Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) accused longtime lobbyist and former delegate Gil Genn of running his hand down her back to her buttocks during a chance encounter a day earlier, and former lobbyist Sara Love alleged that Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery) has inappropriately hugged and kissed her. It was the first time women associated with the State House have publicly accused specific men of harassment.

Both men denied the allegations. Genn, who did not respond to requests for comment from The Post on Friday, issued a statement Monday reiterating the denial he had given to the Baltimore Sun.

“I kept my hands to myself. I didn’t even shake her hand,” Genn said. He apologized for telling the Sun he thought Kagan was “delusional” and said he “welcomes the opportunity” to prove his innocence when the complaint Kagan filed is adjudicated. Kagan stood by her claim.

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