Female state senators voice concerns over representation, sexual harassment laws

Channel 2 political reporter Richard Elliot is at the state Capitol where at least four senators have raised their concerns.

ATLANTA — Several female Georgia state senators are speaking out about how women are underrepresented in influential committees, two days after new sexual harassment legislation was passed.

Channel 2 political reporter Richard Elliot and Channel 2's Dave Huddleston were at the state Capitol where at least four senators raised their concerns.

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

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Lawmakers from both parties are calling it a #MeToo uprising on the floor of the state Senate.

Speakers included Sens. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain) and Zahra Karinshak (D-Lawrenceville).

"We have sat back for a long time in the Georgia state Senate. We're not going to sit back any longer," said Unterman, who spent six years as chair of the Health and Human Services committee.


There are 13 Democratic women and two Republican women in Georgia's Senate.

"There are zero women on regulated industries, there is only one woman on transportation, finance, and judiciary," Parent said. "They do not want to put talented newly elected women on important committees."

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

Duncan issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that said, in part, that "Any insinuation that this year's process (of populating committees) is nonsense."

Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis said the "whining" about committee assignments was partisanship, with Republican leadership giving influential committee roles to Republicans.

But the views from Duncan and Mullis are not how Unterman sees it.

"I'm proud of the women who stood up, this is part of the #MeToo generation. This is what people have to acknowledge in Georgia that women should have a seat at the table," she said.


Lawmakers voted to approve rules that require anyone who believes they’ve been harassed by a senator or Senate staffer to bring their allegations forward within two years of the incident. Previously there had been no time limit.

The time limit would apply to all complaints about the conduct of senators, not just sexual harassment cases.

During Tuesday's session, Unterman shocked the Senate floor once again saying she had been sexually harassed.

She said she would provide more details Wednesday about when and who may have been responsible, but she didn't say any more about it.

Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was used in this report.