Cuomo Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds a press conference on his women's justice agenda at the state Capitol in Albany Monday. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has an end-of-session wish list, and it includes a four-point women's justice agenda he outlined Monday. 

Cuomo wants state lawmakers to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which would add sex as a protected class to the state Constitution, and bolster the pay equity law by applying the "equal pay for equal work" standard to gender, ethnicity and race and requiring equal pay for "substantially similar" work. 

Cuomo's plan aims to address sexual harassment in the workplace. Lawmakers have held two hearings on the issue this year and there have been discussions about legislation to combat workplace harassment. 

One of the proposed changes Cuomo supports is changing the "severe or pervasive" standard for the state to take action under the Human Rights Law. The requirement has been criticized by several witnesses who have testified at the legislative hearings about sexual harassment in the workplace. 

"That is too high a standard," Cuomo said at a press conference Monday in Albany. "We should lower that standard." 

Cuomo endorsed other proposals to combat sexual harassment. He wants to require non-disclosure agreements to include language that allows employees to file a discrimination or harassment complaint with a government agency or to testify in an investigation. He also supports requiring employers to post sexual harassment educational posters in the workplace. 

Cuomo also wants to end the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape. There is a five-year statute of limitations in New York for those charges. 

Eliminating the statute of limitations, Cuomo argued, will give rape victims more time to pursue legal action against their attackers. 

"Being a victim of sexual assault or a sexual crime is emotionally very difficult and it takes people, sometimes, time to process it," he said. "Sometimes people are in a state of denial. Sometimes it causes them such emotional pain that they don't really want to deal with it. Five years is too short a period of time. I do not believe there should be a statute of limitations for rape in the second and rape in the third degree." 

Cuomo's agenda received support from several representatives of women's organizations who joined the governor for the Capitol press conference. 

Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York City and New York state, said the Equal Rights Amendment "has got to get done." 

"If we truly believe in equality, then it must be expressly stated in our constitution," she continued. 

Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of Time's Up's legal defense fund, blasted New York's statue of limitations for second- and third-degree rape. The statute of limitations, she explained, is "on par with states like Alabama."

"And we all know today what Alabama thinks about women's rights," she said. 

Cuomo won't face much or any resistance to these ideas from the state Legislature. The question is whether lawmakers will have enough time to act. 

After Monday, there are 10 days remaining in the legislative session. The Assembly and Senate could stay in Albany past the scheduled June 19 end date, but it's unlikely. 

There are other items on the agenda for the final weeks of session. Rent regulations are expiring, and Democratic legislators want to bolster protections for tenants. Driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants is a priority. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, a major farm labor bill, could get a vote. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.