Senate Passes Weinberg-Gopal Bill to Establish ELEC Unit to Investigate Complaints of Sexual Misconduct in New Jersey Politics

Bill would require campaigns, party organizations to implement anti-harassment policies, training and confidential complaint process

 

TRENTON – The Senate today approved landmark legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Vin Gopal that would require campaigns and political parties to implement anti-harassment policies, training and a confidential complaint process, and establish an independent governmental unit to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct in the political arena.

 

The Weinberg-Gopal bill would establish the Office on Discrimination and Harassment Prevention within the Election Law Enforcement Commission as an independent investigative unit not subject to control by campaign, party or elected officials to receive and probe allegations of sexual violence, harassment and misconduct throughout New Jersey politics.

 

The bill would also require state, county and local campaigns and political party organizations to adopt anti-harassment policies covering behavior both during and after work hours, provide anti-harassment training and designate specific individuals to receive confidential complaints of sexual misconduct.

 

The legislation is based on recommendations developed by the 15-member ad hoc Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny put together by Senator Weinberg, which issued its report in January, and by an 11-member Working Group on Campaign Harassment Legislation convened by Senator Gopal.

 

“Political candidates, campaigns and party organizations have a vested interest in suppressing, hiding or ignoring allegations of sexual misconduct to avert political damage or preserve their personal power,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Survivors who complain publicly, or even privately, face retaliation, are not believed and risk losing their political careers. This legislation would enable survivors to confidentially report sexual misconduct to an independent investigative agency and/or to a designated campaign or party official responsible for monitoring anti-harassment policies.”

 

“I want to thank Senator Weinberg and all of the working groups who contributed so many ideas to this important legislation,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “This comprehensive legislation requires political party organizations and campaigns to adopt anti-harassment policies and conduct training, and it provides important new options for survivors to report misconduct, have their allegations heard and investigated, and obtain justice.”

 

Senator Weinberg established her workgroup and Senator Gopal convened his bipartisan committee in the wake of a December 29, 2019, investigative report in the Star-Ledger and NJ.com by Sue Livio and Kelly Heyboer that detailed a toxic culture of harassment, sexual assault and misogyny in New Jersey politics.

 

The bill would set up a broad-based 11-member Safe Campaigns Advisory Board to draft and review policies and oversee the implementation of provisions of the new law by the ELEC unit. To ensure the board’s independence, six of the members would be appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault; the New Jersey State Bar Association; Rutgers University’s Center on American Women and Politics; Rutgers’ Center on Women and Work; the New Jersey State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the New Jersey Latino Action Network. The Governor, Senate President, Assembly Speaker, and Senate and Assembly Minority Leaders would also have one appointment each.

 

The bill was amended last week to require every political or campaign staffer, consultant, or volunteer to receive a written summary of the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy required under the law specifically explaining his or her right to a safe workplace and explaining the complaint process.