ANNAPOLIS — Sexual harassment complaints in the state capital will be investigated differently under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Larry Hogan.
The law, sponsored by Del. Ariana B. Kelly, D-Montgomery, was one of 216 bills signed by the governor that also included additional funding for public schools, an update to the state’s cyberbullying law, funding to make it easier for high school graduates to pay for community college educations, and a measure allowing the introduction of evidence of prior sexual predatory acts in criminal cases.
Kelly called the changes to how sexual misconduct allegations in the halls of the State House are investigated “a significant, profound policy change.”
“The reality is this bill will create an avenue for me or my staff to file a complaint and not have it become part of the political process,” said Kelly.
The new law signed Tuesday incorporates 10 of 22 recommendations made by the Women’s Legislative Caucus in a report on the status of sexual harassment and misconduct claims in the legislature following the explosion of the #MeToo movement nationwide.
Most important of those, said Kelly, are the creation of an independent investigator to handle complaints and the ability to investigate and potentially sanction lobbyists.
“The reality is there was no mechanism for holding a lobbyist accountable until this bill passed, and now there is,” said Kelly.
In March, Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, publicly accused Gil Genn, a lobbyist and former lawmaker, of inappropriately touching her during a night of karaoke at an Annapolis pub. Genn vehemently denies the allegations, and his lawyer has hinted at the possibility of a defamation lawsuit against Kagan.
That status of the complaint against Genn is unclear.
Kelly said the new law should work hand in hand with additional changes that are likely to be recommended by a workgroup on the issue appointed earlier this year by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Also signed into law:
• A bill that will target the state share of casino revenues for K-12 education, if approved in a referendum later this year.
Hogan said the bill will “finally ensure that casino revenues will go directly into our schools.”
Hogan supported the “lockbox” in concept, though not the plan favored by the legislature, which will make it a constitutional amendment if the measure is approved by voters in November.
The bill is not without a cost to Marylanders.
That state receives about $500 million in revenue from the six casinos. That money goes toward paying the formula-driven state aid to K-12 education — about $6.5 billion this year.
“This make a difference because it says this money from casinos is going to enhance education, not just go into the general fund, but enhance education,” said Miller.
As the state phases in the lockbox initiative, the governor and legislature will have to find $125 million in each of the next four years. This is on top of what is expected to be $2 billion in additional school spending called for by the Kirwan Commission.
“Next year the $500 million will be on top of the $6.5 billion to have well over $7 billion in state revenues going into K-12 education. It is a huge investment that pays off in the quality of life for the citizens of Maryland,” said Busch.
• A measure allowing the introduction of evidence of prior sexual predatory acts in criminal cases. Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, has sponsored the legislation almost as long as he’s been in the legislature, passing it at the end of his fourth and final term. Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, championed the bill in the House.
• Legislation sponsored by Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, creating a private cause of action for injunctive relief in cases of cyberbullying.