ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Fueled in part by the #MeToo movement, lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly passed several bills related to women’s rights in this session.
Some of the bills have been in the works for years. One bill strengthens how the statehouse handles sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers, and it extends the policy to lobbyists. Another bill that was a decade in the making creates a process for impregnated rape victims to ask to end the parental rights of their attackers. Others address limited access to feminine hygiene products for incarcerated women and policies on medical care they receive while pregnant.
Women’s Caucus president Del. Ariana Kelly says these bills aimed to support women from all parts of the state and all backgrounds.
“That’s why you see a focus on women who are inmates but also a focus on women who are in Fortune 500 companies. We wanted to cross the spectrum in terms of supporting women, and not just related to violence,” Kelly said.
Here’s a look at some of the measures:
The bill mandates that sexual harassment complaints against elected legislators be handled by an independent investigator, unless the person who filed the complaint doesn’t want that to happen. And it includes prohibitions against lobbyists sexually harassing people who work in the legislative complex, including other lobbyists, legislators, interns and pages.
“What we really need in the legislature is a cultural change, which is what we’re looking at across the country —changing the culture and improving it for women in the workplace,” Kelly said.
The bill also prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment claims.
Earlier this year, a senator publicly accused a lobbyist of touching her inappropriately at a bar near the statehouse.
ENDING PARENTAL RIGHTS FOR RAPISTS
Women impregnated by rapists can now ask judges to end the parental rights of their attackers. Gov. Larry Hogan approved the bill in February, and it went into effect immediately. Maryland was one of a handful of states that didn’t have such a process. Last year, a similar bill failed to pass during the final hours of the legislative session. Sen. Cheryl Kagan said she was outraged.
“Women are moving into leadership in greater numbers, they’re running for office in greater numbers, and this year our male colleagues finally heard us,” Kagan said.
Studies over the last two decades have estimated that between 17,000 and 32,000 rape-related pregnancies happen in the United States each year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Women who have survived that kind of trauma and are facing the tragedy of becoming pregnant as a result of rape, should not be further tormented by needing to co-parent with their attackers,” Kagan said.
Two identical bills on menstrual hygiene products for female inmates passed the House and Senate.
Sen. Susan Lee sponsored the Senate bill that would require correctional facilities to provide menstrual hygiene products to inmates upon request, free of charge. The bill doesn’t put a limit on the number of these products each inmate can receive.
“It’s a matter of just affording them basic human dignity. In some facilities, they weren’t getting the necessities,” Lee said.
Legislation on policies for the health care provided to pregnant inmates also made it through the assembly. Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat who practices family law, sponsored the House version of the bill. It requires correctional facilities to have specific policies for inmates who are pregnant, on topics like use of restraints, prenatal and postpartum care, and pregnancy testing, she said.
Kelly said she hopes the momentum related to women’s rights continues.
“There’s a lot more left to do. We passed the menstrual hygiene products for women inmates, but other locations have done menstrual hygiene products for women and girls in schools, which is also an economic justice issue. A lot of the work that we did this year is going to lead to even more work that is exciting in the coming years.”
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