As members of Congress seek to address the scourge of sexual harassment at the federal level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to take action this year to combat the problem in New York.
On the eve of his State of the State address, Cuomo released his plan to crack down on sexual harassment. He wants to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment cases involving state officials, adopt a uniform sexual harassment code for state and local government and ban confidentiality agreements to settle harassment cases unless it's the victim's preference.
Outside of government, Cuomo proposes private firms that conduct business with the state to release sexual assault and harassment statistics. And the governor wants to void forced arbitration clauses in contracts that prevent further legal action against harassers.
Cuomo's 18th State of the State proposal is in response to the large number of sexual harassment allegations levied against powerful individuals, mostly men. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, prominent political reporter Mark Halperin, outgoing U.S. Sen. Al Franken and retired football players who now work at the NFL Network are among those accused of sexual misconduct.
"2017 brought a long overdue reckoning where the secret and pervasive poison of workplace sexual harassment was exposed by brave women and men who said this ends now," Cuomo said. "Our challenge in government is to turn society's revulsion into reform, and we in New York must seize the moment and lead the way."
The governor's proposal mirrors similar legislative efforts at the federal level. Two members of Congress from New York, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, have backed legislation to end forced arbitration of sexual harassment cases.
Another bill seeks to end the use of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment allegations against members of Congress. It was revealed at the end of 2017 that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been paid out to accusers to settle sexual harassment cases.
New York state government hasn't been immune from sexual harassment. The late Assemblyman Vito Lopez was accused by women staffers of sexual harassment. Taxpayer dollars were used to settle the cases.
The Cuomo administration has come under fire after allegations against Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman who was employed by Empire State Development, the state's chief economic development agency.
The woman, who Hoyt helped get a state job, accused him of sexually harassing her over a one-year period. She has filed a lawsuit in federal court. Hoyt resigned in the fall.
There are already certain measures in place to address sexual harassment in state government. The state Assembly and Senate require lawmakers and staff to complete biennial workplace harassment training. But Cuomo's plan would go further.
"There must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, and we can and will end the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled harassment for far too long," he said.
Cuomo will release his 2018 agenda during the State of the State address Wednesday in Albany. The speech will mark the beginning of the state legislative session.