Legislators in Virginia will have to begin adhering to yearly sexual harassment training if a bill passed by the House in February also passes the Senate.
The bill was contentiously debated in the House for a week before being passed in a vote of 88 – 10. Prior to the new bill, sponsored by Republican Delegate Roxann Robinson, Democrat Delegate Vivian Watts had pushed for her own sexual harassment bill only to have it voted down.
That bill included a reporting and investigative process as well as protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. She was one of the ten Democrats that voted against Robinson’s bill.
Watts also wanted to make changes to the Republican bill, stating that it was still not enough to protect women. She stated that the requirements of the bill were simply “window dressing” in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The changes Watts called for were voted down in a 50-49 vote.
Republicans in the House were surprised that the vote had taken a partisan turn. The argument was that both Robinson and Watts had the same agenda and were trying to accomplish the same thing.
The bill as it stands will require all General Assembly members and their staff to complete an online sexual harassment training course every year. This is vastly different from the current rule that legislators only have to complete a training course one time after they are first elected.
“The bill is an important one as we can all agree that people, both men and women, need this kind of protection. It is clear that Virginia is serious about the matter, particularly when comparing this bill with Virginia’s current requirement, and with other states,” says Virginia sexual harassment attorney Tom Spiggle of The Spiggle Law Firm. “Maryland only requires legislators to complete the training once every four years. And even in D.C., the training is only required once every two years.”
The bill has not been made into law yet, however. Now that is has passed in the House it will go before the state Senate. If it passes the Senate it, then it must be signed by Governor Ralph Northam. Once the bill officially becomes law, the clerks of the House and the Senate will be responsible for creating the courses. The training would have to begin by July of 2019.