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House Democrats Propose New Sexual Harassment Policy

The House Democratic caucus stands in the floor of the state House chamber.
The House Democratic caucus on the first day of session. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

New Democratic leadership in the House of Delegates intends to create a new sexual harassment policy in an early move by the House’s new, female leadership.

The previous version of House rules didn’t include specific procedures on harassment, though legislation passed in 2018 requires General Assembly members and staff to complete sexual harassment training once every two years.

The new proposal will be taken up by the House Rules Committee to hash out the details of the policy, which will include “training, reporting, investigating, and resolving of issues of harassment,” according to rules the House approved on Thursday.

The proposed policy, introduced by Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) -- the House’s first woman and African American majority leader -- would include discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities,” according to a draft of Democrats’ proposed rules introduced on Thursday.

The policy would apply “to the public and to persons engaged with or employed by the legislative branch,” though lawmakers could conceivably carve out an exemption for themselves.

Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News), who is vice chair of the Rules Committee, said the policy would be modeled after one used by the executive branch. He didn’t respond directly to questions on whether lawmakers would be included, saying the details will be left to the Rules committee.

“This is going to be the most comprehensive and I think best harassment policy that we've ever had,” Mullin said.

In a statement, GOP Minority Leader Todd Gilbert questioned the decision to move discussion of the rules to a committee rather than to the full House.

“Centuries of precedent are clear: the entire House, not one committee, approves policy for the entire House," Gilbert said.

The issue has come up before. Former GOP Speaker of the House Vance Wilkins Jr. resigned in 2002 after paying a $100,000 settlement over accusations that he made repeated unwelcome advances on a 26 year-old clerical worker.

Wilkins also resigned from his House seat over what he later called “an unfounded charge.”

The new proposal wouldn’t apply to the Senate, which is governed by its own rules.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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