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State

Senate Dems pushing 7 anti-sexual harassment bills and the Adult Survivors Act

The entrance to New York's Senate Chamber.
New York NOW
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Coinciding with the first day of Women’s History Month, members of the New York State Senate Democratic Majority have proposed seven bills intended to help stop sexual harassment in both public and private places of work.

Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins alluded to those changes being partially motivated by the events of last year, involving former governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Yes, there had been a culture, there has been a culture, and we’re not part of that culture,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Of the seven bills proposed, Sen. Andrew Gounardes, D-Brooklyn, carries four of them.

His first bill bans the use of “No-rehire” clauses in settlement agreements involving sexual harassment. The second extends the statute of limitations for reporting sexual harassment from 3 years to 6 years.

“As we’ve learned all too well and all too painfully, sometimes it takes a while for people to come forward and speak their truths,” Gounardes said. “We should not place an artificial cap on an individual’s ability to seek recourse in the courts.”

The third bill sponsored by Gounardes would make it illegal for an employer to release the personnel record of a person as a form of retaliation for a report of sexual harassment, or a whistleblower complaint.

His fourth bill would close what Gounardes called the “License to Harass Loophole”. That proposal creates a uniform sexual harassment standard under the Human Rights Law for all public and private employees, including those who hold public office.

“When the majority in 2019 took a major step to change New York State’s sexual harassment laws, and bring them into the 21st century, we carved out of those protections the very people who work in the institutions of government that we’re serving in right now,” he said. “That was wrong then, and we are going to right that wrong today.”

Those 2019 changes were a part of the “Women’s Justice Agenda” under then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which reduced “severe and pervasive” for what qualifies as harassment.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi is sponsoring two bills in that package. The first is the “Let Survivors Speak Act”. That measure would change the state’s Non-Disclosure Agreement laws by banning settlements that include financial penalties against a victim who violates the agreement by telling their story.

Biaggi’s second bill would create a toll-free, confidential hotline for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. Biaggi said an important part of stopping harassment is awareness.

“Almost 75% of workplace sexual harassment goes unreported. And most of the time, that’s because employees really do not know where to go,” Biaggi said.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, sponsors the last bill unveiled on Tuesday. That bill extends the statute of limitations for filing complaints with the Division of Human Rights from one year to three years.

While not a part of this package of bills, Hoylman also sponsors a different bill that lawmakers showed support for during Tuesday’s briefing; the Adult Survivors Act.

The Adult Survivors Act would create a one-year lookback window for cases of adult sexual abuse, allowing survivors to make civil claims against their alleged abusers. It’s based on the 2019 Child Victims Act, which did the same thing for people who suffered abuse before turning 18.

Hoylman said the odds of the ASA reaching the governor’s desk seem good this year.

“We just passed it through the Finance Committee today, unanimously. I think there’s broad bipartisan support,” Hoylman said. “I think that we have built momentum, not just in the Senate though, but Assemblymember Rosenthal has really done her job in the other house, and has a record number of cosponsors.”

That bill passed the Senate unanimously last year, but wasn’t brought to the floor for a vote in the Assembly.

When it comes to potential bipartisan support of the sexual harassment measures, members of the Democratic majority said they hope for the same level of support seen for proposals like the Adult Survivors Act.