POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Democrats rally on behalf of Kavanaugh’s accusers

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

With the nation riveted on sexual assault and harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh six Democratic state senators in Trenton Monday rallied on behalf of the two women accusers.

“We have to raise our voice and say that the person they want on the highest court in the land, he will not be there. We will not back down,” said Sen. Nia Gill.

The rally was organized by Sen. Joseph Vitale, who’s been leading an effort to get justice for victims of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

“All of the accusers of someone who has raped them or assaulted them, their voices need to be heard. Those two women who have accused Kavanaugh of assault, their voices need to be heard,” said Vitale.

The Legislature has been examining its own sexual harassment policies. Monday, the Assembly Budget Committee unanimously passed a bill that would affect all members of the Assembly, their staffs and affiliated agencies. It requires online sexual harassment training at least once every two years, and sets up a new procedure for handling harassment complaints.

“We can no longer continue going through, everyday waking up day saying so-and-so reported it to her boss but that boss never reported it here, or these are 10-year-old claims. Everybody has a voice that needs to be heard and we need to make it clear there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” Assemblywoman Carol Murphy said.

“Every single person in corporate America, in government, in the Legislature, we should know that we maintain each other’s space. That I don’t touch you, that I don’t say anything to you that’s offensive. That’s how I brought up my children. I expect them to act that way. I think that we should all understand those concepts,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz.

The overhaul comes eight months after a national study by The Associated Press found New Jersey’s sexual harassment policy among the weakest in the nation.

“Everywhere else in the workplace there’s a sexual harassment policy. And I think that finally we’ve caught up to where it is that we need to be,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, budget committee chair.

You have to go back 25 years to find a he-said, she-said scandal in the Legislature. If there have been allegations, they have not been subject to OPRA, the Open Public Records Act.

“We’ve had some cases that have moved forward which have been held confidential, so we don’t always have all the information. One of the things in this new policy, it will make final letters of determination OPRA-able. So hopefully we don’t have a problem, but if we do, people have a process spelled out,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

“I don’t know that there is a problem, but if one person is being treated incorrectly by someone else, then there is a problem,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli.

“I don’t think we can be too cognizant. We need to constantly improve and be more aware and better educated on how we should be interacting with our staff and with our colleagues,” said Assemblyman John DeMaio.

The Assembly and Senate are each crafting their own new sexual harassment policies. They’ll need the governor’s signature but apply to each house only. This was all in the works before sexual harassment took center stage in Washington.