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A group of more than 100 community leaders, nonprofits, businesses and others signed a letter urging incoming Governor Kathy Hochul to take up an agenda that increases protections for sexual assault survivors, workers and students. AP Photo/Mike Groll, File
By Jacob Kaye
A group of more than 100 survivors of sexual assault and harassment, their allies, nonprofits and community leaders signed a letter sent to the incoming governor urging her to take action to address the issues in Albany laid bare by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s scandalous last year in office.
The signatories are urging Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will ascend to the state’s top executive’s spot next week, to utilize their NYBOLD Agenda, which they say addresses government ethics, gender equity, sexual violence and sexual harassment in a systemic way.
“Coming into office on the heels of yet another sexual harassment crisis, it is imperative that Governor Kathy Hochul address sexual violence, sexual harassment and gender inequity in a bold and decisive way,” said Mary Ellen O’Loughlin, a survivor and the executive director of The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse. “These policies will help restore trust in government and send a clear message to all New Yorkers that there’s a new way of doing business in Albany.”
The legislative package is made up of bills and policies that address legal action for survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassement in the workplace, expanding the statute of limitations on employment discrimination, and for a true $15 minimum wage for workers in the state, including tipped workers.
Among the bills included in the package is the Solutions Not Suspensions Act, introduced in the Assembly by Queens Assemblymember Catherine Nolan.
The bill would eliminate the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions of school policy. Instead, it would encourage the use of positive and age-appropriate disciplinary strategies.
The group says the bill would help students across the state, especially those who are people of color, have disabilities or identify as LGBTQ or gender non-conforming.
“Across New York State, students of color, students with disabilities, and students that identify as LGBTQ and gender non-conforming are subject to discriminatory, disparate, punitive, and unfair school discipline policies and practices,” the group wrote. “Students collectively lose hundreds of thousands of days in the classroom each year because of suspensions, often for normal youthful behavior.”
The bulk of the group’s legislative agenda addresses bills that would provide more protections to survivors of sexual assault or gender based violence.
The group advocated for the passage of the the Adult Survivors Act, which, like the Child Victims Act, would give a one-year window for adult survivors of sexual assault to file suit against an alleged perpetrator.
They are also fighting for a bill that would eliminate a loophole in the New York State Human Rights Law. As it currently stands, Title VII protections do not apply to the personal staff of elected officials. The new bill would make it so an elected official’s staff are considered as government employees, protecting them under the discrimination and harassment law.
Additionally, the NYBOLD Agenda addresses government ethics by urging Hochul to make the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics more independent and transparent and to update the state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws.
“It is beyond time to reform the state’s ethics oversight system, shore up and fully follow FOIL laws, and increase transparency about conflicts of interest,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY. “We are confident that incoming Governor Kathy Hochul sees the importance of these common-sense issues and understands the role they play in restoring integrity to the Executive Office and confidence in our state government.”
Cuomo, who is expected to leave office on Tuesday, Aug. 24, is the third New York governor in a row to be involved in either an ethical or sex scandal while in office.
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