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State lawmakers offered training about sexual harassment

January 9, 2018

Rhode Island lawmakers wearing black to in solidarity with the Time's Up movement and as a statement against sexual misconduct stand at the House speaker's rostrum at the Statehouse in Providence, R.I., on Tuesday, Jan. 9., 2018. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s lawmakers for the first time are being urged to attend training about sexual harassment.

A 2½-hour session addressing sexual harassment, discrimination and diversity is being offered to members of the House on Wednesday. Democratic state Rep. Teresa Tanzi in October said a more senior lawmaker told her sexual favors would allow her bills to go further. The disclosure prompted Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to offer the training.

House lawmakers are not required to attend, but Larry Berman, a Mattiello spokesman, said they are strongly encouraged to come. The training will be conducted by an employee of the state Department of Administration’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity, he said.

The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights is offering training for senators next week, Senate spokesman Greg Pare said. That also will be the first time the Senate has offered such training, Pare said.

In addition, employees of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, which includes the House and Senate, are required to attend one of six sessions also presented for them by the Department of Administration, Berman said.

The training is one of several steps being taken to address issues surrounding sexual misconduct since Tanzi’s disclosure. While there is a sexual misconduct and harassment policy in place, the JCLS is finalizing a more comprehensive policy, Berman said.

“The new policy has been drafted and it is under review, with the intent to adopt it and distribute it later this month,” Berman said in an email.

Many female lawmakers wore black at the Statehouse on Tuesday in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement and as a statement against sexual misconduct. More than a dozen of them posed for pictures at the speaker’s rostrum after the session started, flexing their muscles like Rosie the Riveter, a symbol of female empowerment. Nearly every attendee at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards wore black.

In addition, Tanzi plans to introduce legislation to create a commission to review Rhode Island’s policies on sexual harassment. She has said she is focused on looking at possible changes in the law, such as improving protections for nontraditional workers in jobs as varied as legislators and Lyft drivers.

“I want to make sure that as the economy has changed and we have created new independent contractors, so to speak, they’re protected, and review all of the other workplaces that currently exist and make sure we have a high level of protection for everyone,” she said Tuesday. “We’ll be looking specifically at retaliation, nondisclosure, all of those hot-button topics.”

Tanzi said she’s meeting with House staff Tuesday to discuss who should sit on the commission. She expects to introduce the legislation within two weeks so the group can start meeting in February.


Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott contributed to this report.

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