ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Maryland state senator’s allegation that a lobbyist inappropriately touched her in a bar is putting a new spotlight on the potential pitfalls when lawmakers and lobbyists interact after dark.
It comes at a time when female lawmakers are proposing a measure to require lobbyists to be covered by the same sexual harassment policies that apply to lawmakers.
Receptions, lunches, dinners and drinks bring lawmakers and lobbyists together frequently during the state’s 90-day legislative session. Lobbyists often take whatever opportunities they can to chat up lawmakers into the night in bars and restaurants.
During a Tuesday news conference in the Senate lounge, Sen. Cheryl Kagan showed security video from the bar she said vindicates her version of events that happened blocks away from the statehouse on March 1. She said the lobbyist put his hand on her back and “slid it down to my tush” during an encounter that lasted about a minute and a half.
“Our current laws don’t cover incidents like this,” Kagan, a Democrat who represents a district in Montgomery County, said. “They don’t cover lobbyists. There’s no independent investigator. There is no opportunity to deal with real consequences. That has to change. We need legislation enacted this year, this session, in these final days.”
Kagan is the first female lawmaker in the Maryland General Assembly to publicly accuse a man of sexual misconduct since the #Metoo movement began.
Lobbyist Gil Genn adamantly denies the allegations. He says the video shows he put his hand on her back but never groped her.
“During the entire one minute and 26 seconds, I never ran my hand down her back,” Genn, a former lawmaker from the same county as Kagan, said in a statement Tuesday. “I never grabbed her tush. I never groped her.”
Maryland is just one state where video has played key role in a case involving legislators and allegations involving sexuality.
In Iowa on Monday, the state Senate majority leader resigned after a website published video and photos showing the married lawmaker kissing a statehouse lobbyist at a Des Moines bar. The website said the incident was recorded March 1.
Kagan said the Maryland video clearly refutes comments made by Genn several days after the incident. On March 5, Genn released a three-page statement denying that he touched Kagan inappropriately. He said “I kept my hands to myself. I didn’t even shake her hand.”
The video clearly shows Genn putting his hand on Kagan’s back.
“I feel vindicated that each and every aspect of Mr. Genn’s denial has been revealed to be false,” Kagan said at the news conference.
Timothy Maloney, Genn’s lawyer, said his office has enlarged still photographs of the video that show Genn never touched Kagan’s buttocks.
“It’s the tale of the tape,” Maloney said. “People can have their own opinions, but there’s only one tape and it’s very clear.”
Genn, in his statement Tuesday, noted that the video shows he did not remember all aspects of the encounter.
“Of the hundreds of one-minute interactions during the day, I never imagined I would have to reconstruct this late-night one, step-by-step, second by second at some time in the future,” said Genn, who noted he has known Kagan for more than 30 years.
Kagan has filed a complaint with the human resources department of the Maryland General Assembly, but because the legislature’s sexual harassment policy doesn’t now cover lobbyists, she said it’s unclear what will happen.
“The head of HR is navigating this as we all are. It’s the first case of its kind,” Kagan said.