Weinberg-Gopal Bill Creates ELEC Unit to Investigate Sexual Misconduct Complaints in NJ Politics

Proposed measure, backed by Katie Brennan and leading activists, requires campaigns, party organizations to implement anti-harassment policies, training and confidential complaint process
TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Vin Gopal today introduced legislation requiring campaigns and political parties to implement anti-harassment policies, training and a confidential complaint process, and establishing an independent governmental unit to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct in the political arena.
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The Weinberg-Gopal bill, S-3389, would establish 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.
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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.
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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 last week, and by the nine-member Working Group on Campaign Harassment Legislation convened by Senator Gopal.
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“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.”
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“It is important that this legislation was shaped by the recommendations of women who understand the impact of harassment, sexual misconduct and misogyny on women in politics,” 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.”
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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.
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Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who served on the Weinberg workgroup and was an adviser to the Monmouth committee, said the legislation was a collaborative effort.
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“Over the last few years, women in New Jersey have been increasingly vocal about the ways in which power and control impact their involvement in politics. The fact that two important groups, Monmouth County’s Task Force and the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny, have spent the past year organizing around this issue is telling – women all throughout New Jersey’s political arena are ready to disrupt and dismantle the patriarchal status quo,” Teffenhart said.
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“The introduction of today’s legislation is the product of what is possible when we work together to address the issues being raised by women and we look forward to New Jersey leading the nation in passing ground-breaking legislation to truly create a safe and equitable environment for all people interested in civic engagement,” she said.
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Katie Brennan, whose recommendations for reforms to protect the rights of survivors in sexual assault cases in the criminal justice system formed the basis of an eight-bill package that passed the Senate last month, applauded the legislative effort to address sexual misconduct in the political sphere.
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“We need more women in politics. We need more women running for office. But all too often, once we get there, we are met with misogyny and harassment. So we’ve asked for accountability, and with this bill we’ll start to get it,” Brennan said. “This legislation will hold our campaigns accountable, our elected officials accountable, and begin to make New Jersey politics a little more inclusive.”
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Members of the Working Group on Campaign Harassment Legislation praised the legislation.
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“Thank you to Senators Gopal and Weinberg for their leadership in prioritizing this most important legislation,” said Tiffany Miller, a psychotherapist and anti-sex trafficking advocate. “This first-of-its-kind legislation is a significant step to ensuring women and our most marginalized community members have a safe space to participate in the political process.”
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“These are difficult conversations to have and I applaud Senator Gopal and Senator Weinberg for having them and being inclusive of everyone’s opinions and views. This will be the first in the country and I appreciate being a member of the Monmouth working group and being involved in this process to try to make political campaigns better for everyone,” said Sancha Gray, a school superintendent.
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“It was an honor to be a part of this ground-breaking legislation. Under the guidance of Senator Loretta Weinberg, Senator Vin Gopal, and Patricia Teffenhart, and thanks to the leadership from courageous women like Tiffany Kaszuba, history has been made,” said Democratic activist Jess Alaimo. “I am hopeful that New Jersey will set an example for the rest of our nation.”
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The Working Group on Campaign Harassment Legislation convened by Senator Gopal was co-chaired by Tiffany Kaszuba and Mary Pat Angelini. In addition to Miller, Gray and Alaimo, the group included Tracy Buckley, Jeanette Hoffman, Juanita Lewis and Randy Bishop.
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Senator Weinberg’s Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics included Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Teffenhart, Alison Accettola, Laurel Brennan, Elizabeth Coulter, Sonia Delgado, Rosa Farias, Jeannine LaRue, Sabeen Masih, Debbie Parks, Crystal Pruitt, Lisa Randall, Julie Roginsky and Christine Shipley.