After groping alleged at lawmaker orientation, Sabadosa files anti-harassment bill

  • Lindsay Sabadosa, who is a candidate for state representative in the 1st Hampshire District.

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2019 11:11:52 PM

NORTHAMPTON — An alleged incident in which an incoming female legislator was groped during an event on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus last month is prompting state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa to file legislation aimed at combating sexual assault and harassment.

Sabadosa, the Northampton Democrat who represents the 1st Hampshire District, said Thursday that she and Sen. Becca Rausche, D-Needham, both new members of the Legislature, are filing separate bills in the House and Senate.

Their bill, an act promoting equality and respect in the Legislature, “creates a commission on workplace harassment and sexual assault to investigate and report on complaints of sexual misconduct and intersectional, identity-based discrimination.”

The filing comes just hours after The Boston Globe reported that a new legislator was allegedly assaulted by a veteran lawmaker, who has been part of the leadership team for House Speaker Robert DeLeo, while participating in the Academy for New Legislators.

Though there is a letter at the Statehouse circulating condemning sexual assault, Sabadosa said she feels it is important that the Legislature take up the bills and take stronger action.

“I’m incredibly dismayed, in a year in which we have seen a wave of women elected, that one of the first stories is a member of the first-year class being, for all intents and purposes, assaulted by someone in House leadership,” Sabadosa said. “It’s deeply disturbing and speaks to the cultural problems and the structural problems that exist.”

The incident is alleged to have occurred during the Dec. 13-15 event for new legislators, at an orientation cocktail hour called Made in Massachusetts, which was held at the Old Chapel. The victim’s backside was allegedly grabbed while she was walking toward another group of legislators being photographed.

The Globe story doesn’t name the alleged victim, but Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham, is identified as the accused assailant. McMurtry in the last legislative session was chairman of the House Committee on Personnel and Administration.

McMurtry told the Globe that the allegations that he groped a woman are “absolutely, positively, unequivocally not true” and he would welcome an investigation.

An outside consultant hired by DeLeo determined the reported sexual assault was plausible, and a special committee on professional conduct is being formed by DeLeo to look into the inappropriate conduct, as required by House rules.

“That’s still a little close to home, and there needs to be a little more independence,” Sabadosa said, adding that such behavior is tolerated too often in the Legislature.

“It is impossible for the Statehouse to pass legislation protecting the residents of Massachusetts from sexual assault and harassment if we cannot protect our legislators and aides from it,” she added.

Sabadosa’s bill is similar to one Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, filed during the last sesson that would have created an outside commission to address issues of assault and harassment that occur at the Statehouse. That bill sought to have a nine-member commission to investigate claims of harassment from employees or interns of the Legislature.

Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, said he only learned about the alleged incident in recent days.

“I was at the orientation but did not see or hear anything about this until recently,” Carey said. “I’m glad that the allegation is being taken seriously, as this type of behavior is unacceptable.”

Other local legislators who were at the educational boot camp, including Sen. Jo Comerford and Reps. Mindy Domb and Natalie Blais, didn’t immediately respond to messages left for them.

The biennial freshman legislator orientation, held on the UMass campus since 1994, includes simulations of sessions and committee hearings and discussions of ethics and the budgeting process.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewksi said no report was made to UMass Police or to event staff working at the cocktail hour, and no university officials have been contacted about the alleged incident.

“All we are aware of is the press reports,” Blaguszewski said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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