• Women Senators in Georgia say they're being sidelined

    By: BEN NADLER, Associated Press

    Updated:
    ATLANTA (AP) - A bipartisan group of state senators in Georgia is speaking out about actions they say are undermining women in the chamber.

    Several senators on Wednesday protested recent changes to Senate rules that weakened sexual harassment investigations and what they say is a troubling pattern of sideling women with committee assignments.

    Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman, who was recently removed as chair of the powerful Senate Health Committee and replaced by a man, said that the Senate was playing "high stakes baseball" and that women were being left out of the game.

    "We're not even in the outfield," Unterman said. "As a matter of fact, we're not even in the ballpark. We're outside of the ballpark trying to look over the fence."

    Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent said that women make up 28 percent of the Senate, but hold few influential committee seats.

    Committee assignments are given out by a committee including Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and a small group of all-male GOP leadership.

    In an emailed statement, Duncan said that "Any insinuation that this year's process was discriminatory is nonsense." Duncan said that he and the others who made assignments "doubled the number of committees chaired by female senators" from two to four.

    But Unterman took issue with that characterization, pointing out that all four chairs were in committees that get relatively low levels of legislation.

    Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis said the "whining" about committee assignments was about partisanship, with Republican leadership giving influential committee roles to Republicans. There are 13 Democratic women in the Senate and 2 Republican women.

    State Sen. Zahra Karinshak also spoke out against recent changes to Senate rules that weaken the body's ability to investigate sexual harassment claims against senators.

    On Monday the state Senate changed its rules by placing a two-year limit on an accuser's ability to bring misconduct claims against senators and members of their staff. The new rules also allow for an internal investigative committee to recommend sanctions - including fines - for bringing claims found to be "frivolous." Investigations also won't take place if the accused is seeking elected office under the new rules.

    While introducing the rule change Monday, Republican Sen. Mike Dugan of Carrollton said the process was only an internal investigating mechanism within the Senate and did not stop victims from pursuing other avenues such as in court.

    When asked for comment Wednesday, Dugan said he was on his way to a meeting and didn't have time to speak.

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