Harrassment – Vermont Style

In Vermont, things happen with less of an edge than the rest of the country. No Harvey Weinstein here. We like to think we are better than that. But as VtDigger.org pointed out recently, harassment of women is alive and well in the Vermont Statehouse. And women who do their jobs there cannot speak out for obvious reasons.

COI ALERT – I am on the VtDigger board.

The Digger story quoted two female legislators about their harassment experiences. It dutifully pointed out that committees exist in the Vermont House and Senate to hear complaints about harassment. And I have heard that Senate President Tim Ashe has told his Senate colleagues in an email that harassment will not be tolerated.

A reading of the Senate rules places much responsibility for policing that body in the hands of something called the Committee on Committees. That panel is made up of three people – all men – the Senate President, the Lt. Governor and Sen. Richard Mazza, a Democrat from Grand Isle.

Reaction to the Digger story has been surprisingly muted, which is strange to me, given that harassment is the first and last topic in EVERY meeting of mine in the last month.

Yet since that story appeared, female lobbyists and legislators are still greeting this subject with the predictable roll of the eyes and that look of resignation that nothing will change.

Here is a proposal for change.

The all-powerful Committee on Committees should be changed – NOW. Sen. Ashe should replace Sen. Mazza on the panel with a woman. There are many to choose from, including the Senate Majority Leader, Becca Balint, of Windham County.

Such a move would send a powerful signal that Vermont political leaders are hearing what’s going on nationally and in their own Statehouse and taking real steps to wipe it out.