ANNAPOLIS — A law creating a new sexual harassment policy in the Maryland General Assembly is headed to the Senate after a unanimous vote Monday.
The passage of the bill by a 138-0 comes as both the House and Senate rush to give final approval to bills in their respective chambers in order to give them the best chance at passage before the session closes on April 9.
“The bill is incredibly strong,” said Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, sponsor of the bill. “I am thrilled with how it is coming out of the House with all of the major provisions intact. It is important that we pass this legislation now so that our new policies are up and running when the new legislature convenes in 2019.”
The bill passed by the House incorporates 10 of 22 recommendations made by the Women’s Legislative Caucus.
Kelly said the balance of the recommendations do not need changes to the law and could be incorporated by the Legislative Policy Commission. Included in those changes are additional training and reporting on issues involving lobbyists as well as the creation of an independent investigator that would be brought in to review complaints.
Kelly is expected to present her bill to a commission appointed by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. later this week. That commission is expected to make its own recommendations.
Passage of the bill comes as state lawmakers wrestle with how to improve the process for handling complaints and investigations involving sexual harassment in the wake of a national movement.
Earlier this month, Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, publicly accused Gill Genn, a lobbyist and former lawmaker, of inappropriately touching her during a night of karaoke at an Annapolis pub. Genn has vehemently denied the allegations, and his lawyer has hinted at the possibility of a defamation lawsuit against Kagan.
Last week, both released the same 86-second video clip they said vindicated their claims.
Currently, the Maryland Ethics Commission, which has oversight over lobbyists, is powerless to investigate or discipline lobbyists accused of sexual harassment.
Kelly’s bill is one of dozens expected to receive a favorable final vote Monday in time to meet the deadline known as “crossover day” — a deadline for the House and Senate to pass their respective bills and send them to the opposite chamber.
Bills that do not make the deadline aren’t necessarily dead but would need to jump through additional procedural hoops.
The House of Delegates could hold a final vote on its version of the state budget by the end of the week. The vote in the House would come nearly two weeks ahead of an April 2 deadline for a version of the budget to be passed in both chambers.
The Senate passed its version earlier this month. A final vote this week could mean that the House and Senate will begin work to finalize the budget in a conference committee as early as next week.
Also already passed is a bill to amend the Maryland Constitution to allow sports betting in Maryland.
Under the bill to be considered by the Senate, the law would place the issue on the November 2018 ballot contingent on a favorable ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving New Jersey.
Another bill likely to make the deadline is a legislative initiative to create a “lockbox” for the state portion of revenues from casinos.
An estimated 1,500 teachers and supporters of education were expected to attend a rally outside the State House Monday night in advance of the vote, according to the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.
The Senate was scheduled Monday night to give final approval to a bill that would place that amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot, guaranteeing that roughly $500 million would go to education as additional revenue. Currently, the revenue from gaming goes to education but is used to offset the state’s mandated spending formula, which this year tops out at about $6.5 billion.
But other bills aren’t so lucky.
One notable casualty was Comptroller Peter Franchot’s proposal to expand laws governing the craft brewing industry.
Another that appears unlikely to pass this year was an effort to legalize and tax recreational marijuana in the state. House and Senate versions of the bill both are sitting in committee, making it more likely that any change will have to wait at least another year.