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House Republicans block vote against comprehensive sexual harassment policy for General Assembly

House Republicans today blocked a vote against a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that included mechanisms for reporting and investigating allegations against members and employees of the Virginia House of Delegates, including those brought forth by members of the public.

Delegate Vivian Watts, the longest-serving woman in the House of Delegates, presented the policy as a series of floor amendments, after the eleven Republican men on the Rules Committee voted without discussion to kill the policy when it was presented as a bill on Jan. 26.

The proposal would have required the General Assembly to tailor training to protect all who interact with any legislator when performing official duties year-round. Interactions with staff, interns, lobbyists, reporters, vendors, and members of the public would all be covered.

Delegate Watts presented the amendments to a Republican bill that would have required Members of the General Assembly and full-time legislative staff to receive sexual harassment training without definition and that was tied to outdated state policies that no longer apply to other state workplaces. For example, the policy adopted by the Republican-controlled Rules Committee does not include protections for gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Training by itself is not sufficient to address the scourge of sexual harassment,” said Delegate Watts. “The bill passed today was described by its sponsor as one to protect ‘us.’ We should not celebrate a measure to protect General Assembly members as a victory when we had the opportunity to introduce real remedies for victims and potential victims. The measure passed today was window dressing. House Republicans have repeatedly proven tone-deaf to women’s issues and it is women, like too many I’ve known, who will pay the price.”

Delegates Watts was first elected to the General Assembly in 1981. Eleven new Democratic women were elected to the House of Delegates in November. All replaced Republican men.