Andrew Cuomo (51864)
Credit: Pat Arnow

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo started off the new year with a proposal to crack down on sexual harassment.

The bills sponsored by New York State senators Brad Hoylman, Tim Kennedy, Roxanne Persaud and Liz Krueger and Senate Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, if passed, would halt the use of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment cases involving state officials, ban confidentiality agreements to settle harassment cases (unless the victim wants it), adopt a uniform sex code of conduct to be followed by both state and local governments and prevent retaliation against state employees who blow the whistle on sexual harassment in the workplace.

In a statement, Cuomo referenced last year’s controversies involving public figures that shined a light on how widespread and consistent sexual harassment is in the American workplace.

“2017 brought a long overdue reckoning where the secret and pervasive poison of workplace sexual harassment was exposed by brave women and men who said this ends now,” said Cuomo in a statement. “Our challenge in government is to turn society’s revulsion into reform, and we in New York must seize the moment and lead the way. There must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, and we can and will end the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled harassment for far too long.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento praised Cuomo for getting behind the legislation and hoped that workers feel more powerful than ever to air grievances without any repercussions.

“The New York State AFL-CIO has added the important issue of addressing sexual harassment in the workplace to our legislative agenda and I am very pleased Senate Democrats are also committed to making this a priority issue this session,” said Cilento in a statement. “For far too long sexual harassment has been overlooked resulting in intolerable working conditions that have been harmful to countless women and men. Training and accountability are essential to ensuring a safe work environment where all working people are treated with dignity and respect.”

The legislative proposals come after a wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations in entertainment (Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey and Russell Simmons), sports (ESPN anchor John Buccigross and retired football players Warren Sapp, Marshall Faulk and Donovan McNabb) and journalism (Glenn Thrush and Mark Halperin). Government hasn’t been immune either.

Before 2017 ended, it was learned that hundreds of thousands of federal taxpayer money went to settling sexual harassment cases against members of Congress. Locally, former New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt was forced to resign from his post at Empire State Development after allegations of sexual harassment during a one-year span came from a woman Hoyt helped to get a job.

Cousins said that she’ll do whatever she can to pass this bill in Albany if the Republican majority ignores it.

“This Senate Democratic bill package will send a strong message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” stated Cousins. “Our proposals will combat sexual harassment in public and private sector offices, ensure public officials cannot use taxpayer money for settlements, protect New Yorkers from retaliatory actions, and shine a light on workplace harassment allegations and settlements.”