Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg’s (D-Teaneck) work group on sexual harassment and misogyny in New Jersey politics recommended the creation of an independent unit under the Election Law Enforcement Commission tasked with investigating allegations of harassment, sexual assault and discrimination in the Garden State’s political sphere.
“We don’t want people in campaigns to feel they have to go to the campaign to lodge a complaint,” Weinberg said during a digital press conference Thursday afternoon. “They need an outside person.”
ELEC, the organization tasked with enforcing the state’s campaign finance laws, was chosen because it already regulates campaigns, party organizations and lobbying.
The bill to create the new investigative unit is still being drafted, and while Weinberg said the measure would include funding, it’s not clear how large the appropriation will be.
The majority leader expects the bill to pass without much trouble.
“Because of groups like this and because of the media, you will be debating this at your peril,” Weinberg said. “I think we’ve convinced people, so no, I don’t think we anticipate difficulty.”
Separately, the work group is urging all levels of party organizations and campaigns to adopt and publicize anti-harassment policies. Party organizations, they say, should ensure their anti-harassment policies are backed up by sanctions for breaches, including removal from organizational lines.
The group also wants to stop potential replacements for non-disclosure agreements that could be used to muzzle accusers. New Jersey law bars the use of NDAs in such a manner, but it does nothing to prevent mandatory arbitration clauses that can be used to achieve similar ends.
“It feels, for me — probably for the first time in my tenure here at the coalition — that there actually are the same conversations happening in all of the circles in which I sit, and that feels like progress in and of itself,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Weinberg said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) and the front office were not shown the work group’s recommendations ahead of Thursday’s announcement, though most of the bills the group is pushing have been public for months.
Those measures, part an eight-bill package that came out of the Joint Select Committee on Investigation, the body that probed the Murphy administration’s hiring of Al Alvarez, the former Economic Development Authority chief of staff who was accused of sexually assaulting State Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan, would variously expand victims’ rights and increase oversight of sexual assault investigations.
Among them are measures that would give sexual assault victims the right to review police reports on their complaint, require prosecutors notify victims about decisions to file charges and mandate an annual review of sexual assault cases by the state attorney general.
All eight of the already introduced bills cleared the Senate in December, and Weinberg said the Assembly would post the bills next month.
Weinberg said she expects the governor will sign those bills.
The working group is also recommending anti-harassment training for all elected and party officials, candidates, campaign staff, consultants and volunteers.
They also want to ensure reforms made to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s Walk to Washington and the League of Municipalities Convention made in the wake of a Star Ledger report that identified them as nexuses for sexual misconduct are kept in place.Workgroup Report Final