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State Sen. Vin Gopal. (Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Gopal bill will create independent process for campaign workers to report toxic workplace incidents

Bi-partisan legislation co-sponsored by Weinberg, Corrado, Pintor-Marin, Munoz

By David Wildstein, January 14 2020 10:17 am

State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) plans to introduce first-in-the-nation legislation to create an independent process for reporting incidents of harassment and discrimination in political campaigns.

“This is an important step in making our state more inclusive and addressing the harassment and misogyny found throughout New Jersey politics,” said Gopal.. “Every person deserves to feel safe in a political campaign, but if that sense of safety is ever violated because of inappropriate conduct, there needs to be a mechanism in place to address it.”

Under the terms of the bi-partisan bill Gopal will introduce today, political and campaign staff and volunteers could immediately report cases of toxic workplace environment to the independent New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission without fear of retaliation.

The legislation will appropriate funds to ELEC to handle the added responsibilities of their scope.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg will co-sponsor the bill, along with State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), Assembly Budget Committee chair Eliana Pintor-Marin (D-Newark), and Assembly Minority Conference Leader Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).  All four served on a legislative panel that investigated the hiring of Al Alvarez by the Murphy administration despite allegations that Alvarez had raped a campaign volunteer.

“It is clear that we still have much left to do if we want to change the culture in Trenton,” Weinberg said. “Right now, there is no system in place in political campaigns that allows survivors to share their experiences, which leaves women under threat of retaliation if they report their harasser.

Gopal’s bill will provide multiple avenues for individuals to easily report cases of harassment or assault, oversight by at least one professional specialized in support for survivors of sexual assault, new guidelines and requirements for political campaigns and organizations to create formal anti-harassment policies and training, and penalties for non-compliant entities and individuals.

Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, praised the legislation as a “significant step forward in our collective pursuit of sustainable change.”

“We must raise the bar for participation in politics and hold ourselves to the highest standards,” Teffenhart said.  “This is a significant step in the right direction and we look forward to working with the bill sponsors, legislative and executive leadership, and like-minded allies to see this legislation through to enactment.”

According to Munoz, the legislature is taking steps to implement “real fairness” in political campaign work environments.

“Volunteers and staffers enter politics because they dream of making a difference, and are willing to work hard to make that possible,” Munoz said.  “They deserve to be able to pursue that passion without belittlement, retaliation, or assault.”

Pintor-Marin said that New Jersey needs a system to protect victims working on political campaigns.

“Too many women working in politics dedicate their passion and their careers to this industry but find that the industry feels little dedication to them in return,” said Pintor Marin. “Instead, women are pushed into inappropriate situations for others’ gratification, forcing them to be on guard everywhere.”

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