As a new member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I was extremely disappointed to learn that a colleague who is a credibly accused sexual harasser is not being held accountable by House Democrats.
This situation was brought to light as a result of an event recently conducted by Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), during which a lobbyist alleged a complaint of sexual harassment and expressed her deep concern that there was nowhere for her to go to lodge a complaint. Prior House operating rules only applied when a complaint was made by a member or employee of the House, not by members of the public, lobbyists, or others who interact with House members.
As part of one of the largest freshman classes in recent memory, and now with 61 female members in the House, I joined many of my colleagues in coming to Harrisburg with the goal of working together and getting things done for our constituents. That is why I am so disappointed that we could not collaborate last week to hold members accountable for their misconduct while carrying out their duties in public office.
Though much has been done to help advance women’s safety, especially in the halls of the state Capitol, it is clear more still needs to be done. News reports indicate the harasser’s identity is an open secret and I am dumbfounded that House Democratic Caucus leaders are taking no action to publicly identify and hold accountable their fellow caucus member for these credible accusations.
Not only do I and other female House colleagues I have spoken to feel unsafe, but every woman who enters the building is now at risk of unwanted touching, advances, and comments from this individual. I do not understand why we cannot work together to ensure we advance women’s safety in this, and every workplace. I do not understand why every Democrat House member universally rejected measures to hold sexual harassers accountable.
Since I was sworn in almost a month ago, while we have not been in session, I have learned from my House colleagues about the unfortunate dangers of Harrisburg.
Now in addition to always having someone walk with me while outside of the Capitol complex for safety, I have to worry about a current male House member who is credibly alleged to have assaulted a female lobbyist.
It is past time for Democrats to take such matters seriously and make sure everyone can do their job and have professional interactions with their elected officials safely and without fear.
It is my great hope that when we gavel into the regular legislative session and adopt a set of operating rules under that umbrella, we include these protections and a system for accountability. To do any less would be an egregious failure of the House’s Democratic leadership.
Intolerance for sexual harassers should transcend partisanship and gender – men and women of every political party and partisan belief should all agree that we must hold sexual harassers accountable.
As elected leaders of the Commonwealth, we must set an example for conduct. What message are we sending to our constituents – and to our children – if we allow a known harasser free rein inside the state Capitol? As a mother, what will I say to my daughter if I did not stand up at a moment like this to protect women at risk of sexual harassment?
I urge the House to come together and demand action. Party doesn’t matter here. Respect, decency, and leadership do.
State Rep. Kristin Marcell represents the 178th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, including portions of Bucks County. She was first elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2022.