ATLANTA — State Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford announced Tuesday from the Senate floor that she has recently been sexually harassed.
Unterman said she hadn’t seen sexual harassment in her previous 29 years as an elected official but had been a victim “in the last couple of weeks.”
Unterman’s comments came in response to the state Senate changing its rules Monday to limit the amount of time accusers have to report allegations against senators and their staff to two years.
The move was part of a package of rule changes taken up on the first day of the 2019 session. Sen. Butch Miller of Gainesville, who serves as president pro tem, was listed as a co-sponsor of the Senate rules package, but did not cast a vote for it. Sen. John Wilkinson, who also represents a portion of Hall County, cast a vote in favor of the rule change.
Unterman simultaneously praised Gov. Brian Kemp for issuing an executive order standardizing sexual harassment reporting processes across state agencies and mandating increased training.
Unterman did not say who harassed her, but said she would reveal more in the coming days. She declined a request for comment through the Senate Press Office.
Unterman of Buford slammed the rule changes on the Senate floor Tuesday.
“We need these rules and regulations,” Unterman said. “We desperately need them to protect people, in particular women and women who sit in this body.”
In a speech that also discussed her recent removal as chair of the powerful Senate Health Committee, Unterman said that she had personally been sexually harassed.
“In the 29 years I’ve been elected, I have never had sexual harassment against me,” Unterman said. “But I’m here to tell you, in the last couple of weeks, I have had sexual harassment against me. And I know now personally what it feels like.”
The vote to adopt the new Senate rules was largely split along partisan lines, with Democrats voting against the changes and Republicans voting for them. Unterman was the sole Republican to vote against the change.
In a statement posted on Twitter Tuesday night, Kemp said his executive order “makes it clear that we will not tolerate sexual harassment in state government.” He did not mention the Senate rule change.
The changes come after a former Senate leader, Republican David Shafer, was accused of sexual harassment last year by a lobbyist whose allegations dated back to 2011. Shafer lost his 2018 GOP primary campaign for lieutenant governor and the Senate eventually dismissed the complaint.
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.
As part of the new rules, a Senate investigative committee will only look into complaints made within two years of the alleged misconduct.
The committee will not be allowed to investigate a complaint if the accused party is currently running for elected office.
Also, the burden of proof that must be met to move an investigation forward has been raised from “reasonable grounds” to “substantial credible evidence.”
Misconduct deemed by the committee to be “inadvertent, technical” or minor can now be dismissed with a “private letter of admonition which shall not be considered discipline.”
Additionally, an accuser must keep the accusation confidential or the complaint will be dismissed and they could face sanctions.