By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The state House of Representatives approved a new rule last year requiring all members to take sexual harassment sensitivity training.
However, 14 members of the House did not participate in approximately eight training sessions both by state officials and member-led classes or did not provide evidence they attended those or similar sessions.
On Thursday, the House spent about four hours reprimanding the members who attended the session, convicting seven of the eight members.
Those being reprimanded called the actions political posturing, Washington, D.C. politics, unconstitutional and partisan, and a slippery slope that will severely damage relations among House members.
Others said the reprimands would set dangerous precedent that will affect the House for years to come, calling the actions unconstitutional mandates.
Those being reprimanded said they were never accused of sexual harassment and talked about family members instilling respect in them for women and did not need government to teach them about sexual harassment.
Rep. Mike Sylvia, R-Belmont, called the proceedings harassment in and of itself.
But the only woman who was reprimanded Thursday, Rep. Betsy McKinney, R-Londonderry, told House members she was ready to take her punishment.
“I accept the reprimand. I knew what the consequences were when I made my decision,” McKinney said. “I will never go to sexual harassment training. I’m 80 years old and will not sexually harass anyone, but my seat mate.”
Several members of the House questioned why Democratic House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, was moving forward with the reprimands Thursday when there were 30 more bills on the calendar.
The integrity of the House is the most important issue before the body, he said, and noted the members up for reprimand were given repeated notices of the need to comply with the rule and refused.
“Negative actions have negative consequences,” Shurtleff said.
Others argued the rule is confusing, set no guidelines or deadlines, noting the procedure lacked transparency and fairness and protested the actions.
The House voted on each reprimand, largely along largely party lines.
House Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said the process and the rule have been applied in an unfair manner, noting Republicans are as concerned about sexual and all harassment as Democrats are.
“And here we are, a year later, and suddenly we have an arbitrarily announced deadline for compliance, and an arbitrary punishment,” Hinch said. “We are literally seeing the process and the parameters regarding this rule being made up as we go along.”
He said nothing positive is coming from this process. “This is politics at its worst,” Hinch said, and echoing President Trump about impeachment proceedings, called it a witch hunt.
Representatives who were reprimanded were:
Charles Burns, R-Milford;
John Burt, R-Goffstown;
Kevin Craig, R-Lancaster;
Raymond Howard, R-Alton;
Betsy McKinney, R-Londonderry;
Michael Sylvia, R-Belmont;
And Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield.
Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, was not reprimanded by the House after he said he attended a similar training but his letter to the speaker was not acknowledged by the Speaker’s Office.
Also facing reprimands but not present at Thursday’s session were:
Rep. Glen Aldrich, R-Gilford;
Rep. John Callum, R-Unity;
Rep. Ed Comeau, R-Brookfield;
Rep. William Fowler, R-Seabrook;
Rep. Becky Owens, R-Chester;
And Rep. James Webb, R-Derry.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org