Legislature votes to update anti-harassment policies

At a State House press conference, an emotional Sen. Loretta Weinberg said Thursday felt “appropriate” to update the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. It’s the first such overhaul in nearly a decade that will require, among other items, mandatory training for all lawmakers, staff and lobbyists every two years.

“Every woman and every man who walks through these halls, who works for the state Legislature or the Office of Legislative Services will be bound by this policy, and they will know we have a safe environment here,” Weinberg said.

“This is a good policy whose time has come. The fact that there are 80 people on the bill here in the Assembly — every Democrat, every Republican is a sponsor or co-sponsor — speaks to the fact that this is a policy that got it right that is going to do much to protect workers’ rights,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

“This should happen more often, where Democrats and Republicans come together. This is what New Jersey and America needs — a unified front by their government,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

The new rules mean the findings of an investigation into misconduct can be made public through an OPRA request, if the complainant agrees. Lawmakers say the actions aren’t a direct result of allegations at the State House — at least not in the last two decades or more.

“By explicitly listing examples of prohibited conduct, we’re eliminating much of the grey area that sometimes hides or protects abusive behavior and making clear that discrimination and sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the New Jersey Legislature,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.

“We started working on this in January. We’ve had conversations and had drafts throughout those ensuing months until now,” said Coughlin. “This is our first session we’ve had after summer. The timing is what it is, but that’s happenstance.”

Lawmakers heightened their push for new legislation as the #MeToo movement gripped the country. A national study by The Associated Press found New Jersey’s existing sexual harassment policy was among the weakest in the nation.

“I believe women will feel that they’re supported in some sort of way. And it’s really well spelled out in the policy that they actually have somebody that they can go to to tell,” said Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt.

And then Lampitt had her own powerful moment on the Assembly floor.

“So I stand here in front of everybody very conflicted about what I’m going to say next, but I’m going to say Me Too,” Lampitt said.

Then joined by other members of the Legislature.

The rules passed both houses and go into effect immediately. As Coughlin reiterated, the vote and timing of the legislation had nothing to do with the hearings in Washington, but it’s certainly fitting.

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