Nondisclosure bill faces uncertain future on governor’s desk

Sen. Loretta Weinberg says nondisclosure agreements required of Gov. Phil Murphy campaign workers may be keeping more than campaign tactics secret. She says several women who’ve hinted at a toxic environment in the campaign are restricted from coming forward to tell their stories by the NDAs.

Weinberg says her bill would free them — and other victims of harassment and assault — to talk about their experiences, and she’s wondering aloud what the governor’s reluctance is.

“This is an important bill,” said Weinberg. “It is nondisclosure agreements that allow the Harvey Weinsteins and the Bill Cosbys to get away with what they got away with.”

So far, the Murphy administration has shown no inclination to release anyone from their NDA.

“Campaigns the world, the country, over have operated in very similar fashions to the way we operated, including NDAs, and I see no reason why they should operate otherwise,” Murphy said last month.

The Katie Brennan hearings, of course, have drawn a lot of attention to this issue. Brennan signed an NDA, and in her suit against the administration claims she was prohibited from disclosing certain information she learned while working on the campaign.

The governor says NDAs are common in campaigns across the country, but supporters of the bill say that by protecting proprietary campaign information, the governor is, in essence, providing cover for harassers and closing a lane for victims who may be seeking justice.

“The bill does not affect things like proprietary information,” added Weinberg. “You can’t share the formula for the new drug on the market or the new cake mix. It only talks about victims of sexual assault. It allows the victims to talk, if he or she so chooses, or not to.”

But Alida Kass of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, a pro-business group, says Weinberg’s bill uses the cover of the Brennan hearings and the #MeToo movement to weaken rules covering arbitration agreements.

“There’s this obscure language about waivers of procedural rights and what that really is is an effective ban on arbitration in employment contracts,” she said. “Arbitration is a cost-effective, efficient, streamlined way of resolving disputes and you get that efficiency by minimizing procedure.”

The bill has overwhelming support in the Legislature, but it’s still unclear if the governor will veto the bill outright, send it back to the Legislature with suggestions for limits on the language, or, less likely, just sign it. They’re all imperfect options on an issue that in the current climate is unlikely to go away.