The 2018 New York State legislative session got its official start a few days ago with the governor’s State of the State address. While I agree with the governor that our state is faced with some tough challenges, we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the best steps to take to clear those hurdles.
In my estimation, we need to focus first on economic growth. While the governor went into great detail on certain portions of his agenda, I felt his speech was a bit light on specifics on how to grow jobs and provide new opportunities, particularly in upstate New York. I am hopeful that his state budget plan, which will be presented later this month, will include workable ideas to strengthen our economy.
Controlling state spending, derailing new taxes, ending costly and unnecessary state regulations, and partnering with our business leaders to boost our economy are just a few of the initiatives I will be advancing in 2018. We need to strengthen our infrastructure and accelerate our broadband expansion to rural areas as well. It is also time to review our current economic development programs — we should not be wasting state resources on programs that aren’t generating jobs.
Ensuring New York is affordable for families and for businesses must also take precedence. The governor has laid out an ambitious and expensive plan but we cannot lose sight of the bottom line. A permanent property tax cap and cuts to energy taxes need to come first before we start doling out money for new, untested pursuits. And I repeat, new taxes are not the answer.
I do believe we can come to swift agreement on new laws targeting sexual harassment in the workplace. The governor detailed his plans to contend with this heinous offense and there are similarities to legislation I am co-sponsoring known as the Sexual Harassment Accountability and Protection Act.
The recently introduced senate legislation (S.6972) would:
• Prohibit secret settlements. To help discourage serial predators, this measure would prohibit courts from accepting any settlements that include confidentiality agreements or provisions. This would help ensure that those responsible are held accountable while providing employers with a greater incentive to institute strong anti-harassment policies and build a workplace culture that discourages such behavior;
• Prohibit mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints. Mandatory arbitration clauses are often used by employers to force sexual harassment victims into private arbitration proceedings, which precludes their ability to seek legal action;
• Expand the definition of "employer" to include those who employ independent contractors. Currently, individuals who are freelance or contract workers cannot file sexual harassment complaints against the enterprises or individuals who have employed their services. This covers a broad and growing range of businesses, including entertainment companies, news and media organizations, construction firms, real estate agencies, and hair salons, among many others. The Government Accountability Office has placed the percentage of freelance and contract workers at approximately 40 percent of the workforce. This legislation would close this loophole by extending to contract workers the same right to file sexual harassment complaints as individuals who are directly employed by the company or entity;
• Adopt the definition of "sexual harassment" into state law. Although the NYS Division of Human Rights has a definition it uses administratively, there is currently no definition in statute of what constitutes sexual harassment. That leaves litigants subject to varying interpretations by judges, who may improperly dismiss sexual harassment cases at the outset. One study found that approximately 37 percent of cases are dismissed pretrial.
The senate has taken steps previously to rein in sexual harassment in the workplace, but it is clear new measures are necessary and I support an even tougher stance on this vile crime. I commend my colleagues, Senator Cathy Young and Senator Elaine Phillips, for introducing this landmark legislation that will greatly strengthen New York State’s sexual harassment laws and I am proud to join them in urging its speedy passage.
State Sen. James Seward represents the 51st Senate District.