Nicole Rice

Sexual harassment reform at center stage as Legislature returns

By Nicole Rice, Policy Director, Government Relations

Capitol Update, Jan. 5, 2018

The breaking of silence last Fall concerning the "pervasive" culture of sexual harassment in the Capitol community has resulted in a swift response by key Legislators to cure the behavior and restore a feeling of safety to those who work there.

Last week leadership in both legislative Houses announced the creation of a joint, bi-partisan legislative committee to create bicameral reforms to improve how the Legislature responds to the issue of sexual harassment and protects those who report such abuse. In a dual statement, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) stated, “…sexual harassment and abuse have to stop and everyone in the Capitol community must feel safe.” The Joint Committee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response will be housed under the Joint Budget Committee and will have its first hearing later this month.

As expected, several bills will be introduced this year to strengthen sexual harassment protections and reporting, not just for legislative staff and those within the expanded community, but also within the private sector.

Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), Vice Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, announced her introduction of SB 820 to ban secret settlements in cases of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Specifically, the bill will ban the inclusion of secrecy clauses and/or requirements in non-disclosure agreements related to specified sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and assault for both public and private employers. It is co-sponsored by the Consumer Attorney’s of California and the California Women’s Law Center.

Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) also announced last week the introduction of a suite of bills to enhance protections for employees who have encountered sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.  One bill in the package will target arbitration agreements, prohibiting the use of arbitration in sexual harassment claims. Another will be an omnibus bill of protections against retaliation.

More details about this and other legislation will be available within the coming weeks.

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