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Lawmakers reprimanded for skipping anti-harassment training

February 20, 2020 GMT

Seven Republican members of the New Hampshire House were publicly reprimanded Thursday for failing to attend mandatory training on sexual harassment prevention in a contentious session that lasted far longer than the two-hour course.

The Democrat-controlled House approved a new rule last year requiring the training and offered at least eight sessions before moving to formally reprimand those who didn’t comply. Fourteen of the 400 members failed to comply, but the House only voted on the eight who were present Thursday. Among that group, the House voted to reprimand all but Andrew Prout, of Hudson, who said he had submitted paperwork showing he had attended similar training at work.

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Over the course of four hours, each of the eight was given the opportunity to explain why they didn’t attend the training sessions. Some said they believed the mandate was unconstitutional, others said they didn’t need the training. Throughout the afternoon, Republicans made their displeasure known through a variety of unsuccessful procedural stunts that delayed the votes.

Charles Burns, R-Milford, said he found the requirement “offensive and pretty insulting” and that he looks forward to Republicans re-taking control of the House next year and subjecting Democrats to training on subjects they consider important, such as “what happens to a fetus during an abortion.” He said sexual harassment is both real and wrong, but he viewed his refusal to participate as an act of civil disobedience.

“I don’t need to be told by an all-knowing, all-powerful state exactly how I have to behave in public,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Craig, of Lancaster, said he first attended a similar training in the Army in the 1980s and leads trainings himself in his current job, though he didn’t submit paperwork seeing a waiver. Rep. Kevin Verville of Deerfield said he has such paperwork from his employer as well, but refused to submit it on principle. Rep. John Burt, of Goffstown, and Rep. Michael Sylvia, of Belmont, called the training requirement an example of Washington-style political posturing by Democrats.

“The rule that we are supposed to follow has no edges to it. It is wide open. It does not say when the training will happen, it does not say how often it will happen. There is no evidence to be placed in the record that I have not taken this training. It’s just conjecture,” said Sylvia. “We are not operating under the rule of law here. This is simply tyranny of the majority.”

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Also reprimanded were Reps. Kevin Verville, of Deerfield, and Raymond Howard, of Alton. The only woman to be reprimanded, Rep. Betsy McKinney of Londonderry, said at age 80, she’s not going to sexually harass anyone, though she joked about harassing a male lawmaker who sits next to her and said “If anyone wanted to sexually harass me, I would be extremely flattered, but I’d advise him to get glasses.”

Those remarks offended Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight, a Manchester Democrat.

“Having a fellow female representative get up there and make a joke makes a mockery of women and any victim in this state,” she said. “It’s basically laughing at their fight.”

The last time a House member was reprimanded was 2005, according to House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, who said his office did everything possible to accommodate lawmakers’ schedules by offering the training at different times of day. And he rejected the notion that those who believe they don’t need the training should be allowed to skip it.

“We in this House pass laws on a daily basis, we don’t pass laws to tell the majority of people what to do,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of the people in this House don’t need the training. But as with the laws we pass, we do it to tell the minority what to do.”