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NJ Assembly updates harassment policy to include training

September 19, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — For the first time in almost a decade, New Jersey lawmakers are updating their harassment policy, including mandating training for legislators and staff, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said Wednesday.

The new eight-page policy would supersede a five-and-a-half-page 2009 document and includes a handful of changes, among them the requirement for anti-harassment training at least every two years.

Coughlin, a Democrat, called the new policy the “most rigorous” possible.

“The time to have in place a comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy that applies to everyone connected in any way to the General Assembly is long overdue,” he said in a statement.

The policy sets out to bar discrimination in a number of categories, including race, sex and nationality, and says it aims to make the Legislature a place of “civility and mutual respect.”

The policy review came after lawmakers — including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg — began pushing for updates in light of the many accounts of sexual misconduct across the country as part of the #MeToo movement.

Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick praised the plan and added that lawmakers should do everything possible to prevent harassment.

“It is important that the legislature leads by example,” he said.

Other changes include specific examples of prohibited conduct. For instance, the new policy bars using slurs or derogatory language toward any of the groups protected by the policy.

The policy also spells out a pathway for so-called final determination letters to become public under the state’s Open Public Records Act. Under the previous policy, such letters were deemed not covered by transparency law. The new policy says that if the person complaining of a violation under the policy agrees to it, such documents can be released 30 days after the letter is issued or legal proceedings end, whichever is later.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press filed records requests with the legislative chambers in every state — including New Jersey — seeking information on the number of sexual misconduct or harassment complaints.

Some officials said even if there were records, they could be exempt from disclosure.

New Jersey was among a majority with no publicly available records.

Another change is the sped-up time frame for issuing a final determination, from 120 days to 60 days.

The policy spells out that complaints are to be filed with any of a handful of “intake officers.” An investigation is then to take place.

A 50-state review by The Associated Press published early this year found that almost all legislative chambers now have at least some type of written sexual harassment policy, though they vary widely.

In a follow-up, an AP review found the most common response among legislators was to increase training about sexual harassment. About half the legislative chambers have done so, typically by making it mandatory or providing it more frequently. But legislative chambers in one-fifth of the states still do not require lawmakers to participate in sexual harassment training.

New Jersey’s Democrat-led Senate is working on a similar policy update. Weinberg has said it is expected to be released soon.

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