Senate votes on legislative rules aimed at increasing transparency and addressing sexual harassment

BOSTON — Senator Cindy F. Friedman recently joined her colleagues in passing two rules reports updating the Senate and Joint Rules related to harassment, diversity, and transparency.

“Transparency and accountability are critical components of a well-functioning and effective government,” said Friedman. “We have set the tone for this legislative session with the passage of several key amendments aimed at addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and making sure that we conduct our business in a well-meaning, effective and honest manner.”

The temporary Senate Committee on Rules was chaired by Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and included Majority Leader Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton), Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham), Senator William N. Brownsberger (D-Belmont), Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Senator Ryan C. Fattman (R-Webster).

In May 2018, the Senate Special committee to review the sexual harassment policies and procedures – which Friedman served on – submitted its report with a series of recommendations for updates to the Senate’s policies and procedures. Key highlights to the Senate rules proposal include tightening up existing protocol by creating a new rule that explicitly prohibits harassment, requiring timely training of all members and staff, and including interns in Senate policies. The proposal also requires that all rule violations, including harassment, be referred to the Committee on Ethics.

The Senate also adopted an amendment filed by Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) prohibiting the Senate from utilizing nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) or similar clauses in an agreement or contract, and enforcing previously entered into NDAs.

In addition, the Senate rules proposal includes the creation of the position of an Officer of Diversity and Inclusion, who will be part of the Senate’s human resources department and who will focus on the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce.

Building on the work of the 2018 Special Legislative Commission on Public Records, chaired by Senator Walter Timilty (D-Milton), the Senate adopted amendments to both the Senate and the Joint rules to improve efficiency, transparency and access to records.

The Senate rules proposal codifies the current practice of providing copies of Senate session broadcasts upon request to members and the public in a timely manner. It also includes provisions to ensure timely notification of Senate hearings and Senate committee action.

The Joint Rules package does the following:

  • Requires both Senate and House chairs to agree to the schedule of committee hearings and executive sessions to avoid confliction with other committees or sessions;
  • Directs the clerk of the House and Senate to establish temporary rules for joint committees unable to come to agreement on rules;
  • Requires joint committees to provide text or summaries of legislation to members prior to consideration at executive session;
  • Requires all recorded votes of joint committees to be posted on the General Court website;
  • Increases the notification requirement for joint committee hearings and executive sessions from 48 to 72 hours; and
  • Increases the notice requirement of special commissions and task forces from 48 to 72 hours.

The final Senate rules package is the latest in a series of initiatives to create a positive work culture for Senate members, staff, interns, and visitors. The Senate is currently in the process of undergoing a sexual harassment climate survey, conducted by an outside organization in accordance with the recommendations of the Senate Special committee to review the sexual harassment policies and procedures. It is also currently working to implement pay equity as required by the law passed in 2018.

The adopted Senate Rules will now go into effect. The Joint Rules passed by the Senate will now be reconciled with a proposal by the House of Representatives.

Friedman represents the 4th Middlesex district, which includes Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Woburn, and precincts 1-2 and 4-7 in Lexington.