The #MeToo movement last week spread to Connecticut politics, as Democrats in the state Senate called for public hearings to review the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policies.
On Thursday, the Senate Democratic Caucus issued a press release asking the Legislative Management Committee, a joint committee, to examine the Assembly’s sexual harassment policies and potentially implement a new process for victims to submit anonymous testimony.
“The Connecticut General Assembly can and should be a national leader when it comes to our sexual harassment policies. Anything less is unacceptable,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said at a press briefing. “Public hearings will provide us with a significant opportunity to re-examine the General Assembly’s policies in an open and transparent manner.”
Historically, Connecticut has taken a leadership role in countering sexual assault. In 1991, the state became the second of three, following Maine, to mandate prevention training in companies with more than 50 employees. Even today, nearly three decades later, only Maine, Connecticut and California have such laws. While the last comprehensive rewrite of the state’s sexual harassment policies occurred in July 2014, the recent media storm around sexual assault has pushed Connecticut Senate Democrats to call for another review and modification.
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Duff plan to make a formal request for public hearings to other legislative leaders during a budget meeting this week.
According to Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, the Assembly’s current sexual harassment policies were developed by “working in consultation with experts in the field.” The policies not only define what counts as “sexually harassing behavior” and a hostile work environment but also describe how complaints can be filed.
Still, under the current rules, complaints are not allowed to be made anonymously. But the Democratic senators expressed a desire to change that rule based on how difficult it is to “come forward and report inappropriate behavior” in a public hearing.
“Sexual harassment is being exposed across all levels of government and industries, and [Looney] wants to make sure the Connecticut General Assembly has the strongest protections in place for protecting the people,” Joseph told the News.
Joseph added that because the legislative session lasts from Feb. 7 to May 9, the policy review will probably take place within the next 100 days.
The Connecticut State Democrats are not the only state affiliates speaking out against sexual harassment. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., ranking member of a U.S. Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the safety of NCAA and U.S. Olympic Athletes, sent letters with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the same subcommittee, to USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University regarding “systemic failures to protect athletes from sexual abuse,” according to a press release issued on Jan. 25.
Citing the recent publicity around Larry Nassar — who was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for years of sexually predatory behavior — Blumenthal and Moran wrote in the letters that the sentencing hearings provided “ample evidence” that USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University were “negligent in acting on reports” of Nassar’s abuse.
“Of particular concern is the recent allegation that [USA Gymnastics] actively sought to silence [Olympic Gymnast McKayla Maroney] with a non-disclosure agreement that would impose a $100,000 fine if the victim were to violate its confidentiality clause by speaking out about the sexual abuse,” the senators wrote.
In Dec. 2017, as national conversation surrounding sexual harassment policies escalated, Gov. Dannel Malloy also joined the fight, signing an executive order that directed the Department of Administrative Services to review the Connecticut’s state policies procedures concerning sexual harassment.
“Recently, our country has seen an unprecedented number of brave individuals come forward with shocking reports of sexual harassment in the workplace,” Malloy said in a press release. “As an employer itself, the State of Connecticut must be a partner in fostering a civil environment and tolerant culture.”
The Department of Administrative Services will be required to deliver the report no later than Feb. 1, depending on the results of the assessment.
In recent times, there have been no known cases of sexual assault involving the Connecticut legislature.
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