In a raucous legislative session Thursday, GOP lawmakers in New Hampshire raised a variety of offensive reasons for refusing to attend sexual harassment training, including one joking she’d “be extremely flattered” if someone harassed her and another recommending training on “what happens to a fetus” during an abortion.
The Democratic-led state House voted to publicly reprimand seven GOP representatives for repeatedly ducking training sessions, more than a year after lawmakers mandated the anti-harassment and discrimination training in a bipartisan vote in response to the Me Too movement.
The representatives who were reprimanded took turns explaining their opposition, with several claiming it was unconstitutional, or complaining the rebuke was “Washington, D.C., politics.”
“I was raised to be very respectful of one another, and I was raised especially to be respectful to women,” Rep. Charlie Burns (R) said, calling the mandatory training “very offensive and very insulting.” “And there is not a single person in this room, this building, this complex that can ever honestly say that I have sexually harassed them or in fact harassed them in any way.”
Burns went on to suggest that if Republicans win control of the state House, they can mandate their own training, such as one on abortion.
“I am really, looking forward to having everyone take sensitivity training to the issues that I consider important,” he said, including “that question of abortion and what happens to a fetus during that abortion.”
“I don’t need to be told by an all-knowing, all-powerful state exactly how I have to behave in public,” Burns added.
Rep. Betsy McKinney (R) said she accepted the reprimand, but will continue to resist training. “I’m 80 years old. I’m not about to sexually harass anybody, except my seatmate,” she said.
Her joke was met with cheers and hollers from some lawmakers.
She added: “If anyone wanted to sexually harass me, I would be extremely flattered, but I’d advise him to get glasses.”
Lawmakers had been offered at least eight opportunities to attend a training session, House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D) said. They could forgo the training if they attended something similar at their workplace.
Democrats criticized the GOP scofflaws for making light of sexual harassment.
“Having a fellow female representative get up there and make a joke makes a mockery of women and any victim in this state,” Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight (D) said. “It’s basically laughing at their fight.”
“Republicans’ refusal to attend a mandatory sexual harassment training — along with their obscene excuses — perpetuate a toxic culture where sexual harassment is condoned and where those who come forward are ignored and attacked,” Holly Shulman, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Thursday’s raucous arguments on the floor lasted about four hours. The lawmakers’ sexual harassment training would have taken two.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.