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Rhode Island lawmakers offered sexual harassment training

Rhode Island State House (WJAR)

Rhode Island's lawmakers for the first time are being urged to attend sexual harassment training.

A 2.5-hour session addressing sexual harassment, discrimination and diversity is being offered to members of the House on Wednesday after Democratic state Rep. Teresa Tanzi in October said she was told by a more senior lawmaker that 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, says they are "strongly encouraged" to come.

Senators are being offered training next week by the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, Senate spokesman Greg Pare said. That will also be the first time the Senate has offered such training, Pare said.

The training for House members is being conducted by an employee of the state Department of Administration's Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity, Berman said.

Employees of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, or JCLS, which includes the House and Senate, are required to attend the same training, which is being offered during six different sessions over the coming weeks, Berman said.

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

"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.

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 be on the commission. She expects to introduce the legislation within two weeks so the group can start meeting in February.

Tanzi said some lawmakers will wear black at the State House on Tuesday in solidarity with the Time's Up movement and as a statement against sexual misconduct. Nearly every attendee at Sunday's Golden Globe Awards wore black.

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