Senate considers toughening harassment rules

State Sen. Joan Lovely

BOSTON — Interns in the state Senate who’ve been excluded from sexual harassment policy and left with few avenues to complain will have more protection under reforms proposed by a special committee.

On Tuesday, a nine-member panel released a 12-page report calling for stronger anti-harassment policies and training, better protections for interns and a streamlined process for complaints, among other proposals.

"We want people to know they are protected when they're in this building, whether they're a state employee, a lobbyist or volunteer, or just visiting," said state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who led the committee's four-month review of Senate policy.

The panel has been looking at policies in the aftermath of allegations of unwanted sexual advances by men against female and male staffers, interns, lobbyists and others who work at the Capitol.

Because they aren’t considered state employees, hundreds of legislative interns working part time at the Statehouse for college credit have not been covered by sexual harassment policies, don't receive any standardized training on sexual harassment, and had few avenues to file a complaint.

The panel recommends interns be treated as employees for purposes of the anti-harassment policy and take anti-harassment training every two years.

"We felt strongly that interns deserve the same amount of protections as anyone who works in or visits this building," Lovely said.

Interns should be at least 18 to work in Senate offices. If they are younger, they should get permission from their parents or the internship program.

The committee also recommended surveys of employees and interns, and additional reviews, to get a handle on the scope of sexual harassment that may be happening.

It called for updating Senate rules to explicitly cover lawmakers and state that "a violation of the Senate’s anti-harassment policy by a member is considered misconduct," which could be grounds for removal.

The committee, whose recommendations will now be forwarded to Senate leadership for consideration, also called for non-disclosure agreements to be prohibited.

Lovely said ensuring the confidentiality of those who report alleged sexual harassment and assaults is a key part of the panel's recommendations.

"We want people to feel comfortable to report," she said. "People want to know that they can come forward with allegations without fear of retribution."

The Senate's sexual harassment policy dates to the late-1990s and was updated last year to comply with changes in federal law

"We're making the policy clearer," Lovely said. "There's been a process for filing complaints for some time, but it really wasn't clear in the policy."

The issue of sexual harassment and assault has come under growing scrutiny — and given rise to the "#MeToo" movement — amid allegations against prominent figures in media, business and entertainment.

Last year, a Boston Globe column detailed the experiences of a least a dozen women who said they’ve been sexually harassed or received inappropriate comments at the Statehouse.

The report didn't identify the perpetrators.

In response, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, ordered a review of House policies on sexual harassment and recommend ways to improve them.

In March, the House unanimously approved suggested changes that spell out the procedure for handling sexual harassment cases and prohibits anyone from retaliating against a person who has complained.

The Senate review was initiated months before a scandal involving former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg forced the Amherst Democrat to leave office amid allegations that his husband assaulted and harassed other men and bragged about his influence over Senate affairs.

Two weeks ago, the Senate Ethics Committee issued a scathing report that found Rosenberg did not violate any formal Senate rules but showed a lack of judgment by giving his husband, Bryon Hefner, "unfettered access" to his Senate email account.

Rosenberg resigned from the Senate days later.

Lovely said those allegations created a sense of urgency for the committee's review. "Because it was happening under our own roof," she said, "we felt it was critical that we get this right."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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