Photo of Senator Cohen.

State Senator

Christine Cohen

Representing Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison & North Branford

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Cohen, Senate Democrats Announce “A Connecticut for All” Agenda

Bill proposals aim to strengthen our health care system, environment and energy system

photo of Senator Cohen.

State Senator Christine Cohen spoke at a press conference today held by the Senate Democrats promoting several bills that aim for “A Connecticut For All,” the final of four legislative agendas for the 2019 legislative session. The series of bills outline the policy proposals from Senate Democrats to strengthen gender equity and provide fairness for all of our residents.

Today, State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford) and Senate Democrats announced “A Connecticut for All,” the fourth of four legislative agendas for the 2019 legislative session. The series of bills outline the policy proposals from Senate Democrats to strengthen gender equity and build a state for all our residents.

Sen. Cohen highlighted the efforts of the legislature for passing a pay equity bill last year, but acknowledged there is still much work to be done.

“As a female, small business owner, someone who has worked in corporate America for many years and the mother of two daughters who I want to see treated fairly, the proposals we’re discussing here today are crucial,” said Sen. Cohen. “We recognize the gender gap is wide and wider still for women of color. Figures from studies published early last year indicated women made 79 cents for every dollar a man earned. I stand here today with a dedicated caucus committed to ensuring equal pay. I am firm and steadfast in my desire to make Connecticut’s equal pay laws as strong as possible, without any room for misinterpretation.”

The legislative proposals in the “A Connecticut for All” agenda include:

Senate Bill 3: Time’s Up Act: An Act Concerning Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment

CRIMINAL PROVISIONS—SEXUAL ASSUALT

  • Compared to other states and DC, Connecticut’s statute of limitations for rape is one of the five shortest in the country. Twenty-five states have no statute of limitations for rape. Twenty states have a limit that exceeds Connecticut’s five-year limit, and only two states have shorter limits.
  • Victims report sexual assault crimes less than other crimes because they are fearful of retaliation and do not think the police will believe them.
  • After more than 80 women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, he was arrested May 25, 2018 in New York and charged for an alleged rape in 2010. He has since been charged with other offenses in 2006. Had Weinstein committed these crimes in Connecticut he would be free from such criminal charges.
  • This bill would extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes.
  Statute of limitations (in years) for crimes against Adults, w/o DNA evidence
  Current SB 3, Time’s Up
Class B and C Felony Sexual Assault
E.g. Forced rape, rape by drugs, sex by false medical pretense
5 No Limit
Class D Felony Sexual Assault
E.g. Forced sexual contact
5 25 Years
Non-Felony Sexual Assault
E.g. unwanted sexual contact, and other class A misdemeanors
1 5

CIVIL PROVISIONS—SEXUAL HARRASMENT

  • Women file more than 80 percent of all sexual harassment complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Around 70 percent to 80 percent of people who experience workplace harassment do not report it. And those who do report general mistreatment at work experience retaliation 75 percent of the time.
  • Victims of harassment have rights, and the fact they suffer more when these rights are exercised is unacceptable. We need to believe women, change our biases, and support a change of culture.

New Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

  • This bill would require employers with three or more employees to provide training, and extends the requirement to all employees. Currently employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide at least two hours of training on sexual harassment to supervisory employees within six months of their employment.
  • The bill would require two hours of training for all employees, not just supervisors. The employer size threshold will be reduced from 50 to a range of 3 to 20 employees.

Protections For Employees Who Come Forward About Sexual Harassment

  • Employers should not create disincentives for victims to report sexual harassment. With good and bad intentions, employers attempt to resolve allegations of sexual harassment by suspending the accuser, changing the accuser’s responsibilities, or imposing other modifications to separate the accuser and alleged offender. Such action can disrupt the accuser’s job performance and career prospects.
  • The bill would prevent an employer from taking “corrective action,” i.e. action in response to an allegation that modifies the accuser’s employment conditions without their consent in writing. Retaliating against an employee for refusing to sign such a consent form would be illegal, and an act of discrimination.

Strengthening The Legal Options Available To Victims Of Workplace Discrimination—Not Just Sexual Harassment

  • Workplace discrimination complaints cannot be filed in court, and must be filed within 180 days with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).
  • The bill would extend the deadline to 300 days, which is equivalent to federal protections. This provision applies to allegations of sexual harassment, but also other forms of discrimination prohibited under the CHRO statutes, including race, sex and religion.
  • Punitive damages are permitted in many tort claims as well as discrimination claims under CHRO’s housing and credit law, but victims of workplace discrimination cannot seek punitive damages.
  • This bill would change that, bring parity, and allow victims of all workplace discrimination to seek punitive damages.
  • Pay Withholdings For Salaried Employees
  • Under current law, if an hourly employee is accused of sexual harassment or violence, the employer may suspend the accused without pay.
  • The bill would allow employers to withhold pay when they suspend salaried executives, administrators, and professionals accused of sexual harassment or violence.

Taking Sexual Harassment By School Administrators Seriously

  • When a school administrator is accused of sexual harassment, they can stay on the job.
  • This bill would require the superintendent of schools to immediately suspend the administrator until an investigation is complete.

Senate Bill 697: An Act Concerning Nondisclosure Agreements in the Workplace

  • There are two main versions of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that keep the identity of sexual misconduct offenders a secret. First, settlement agreements that pay the victim cash prohibit the victim from disclosing any information about the offense to anyone. Second, agreements employees must sign as a condition of employment that prohibit the employees from making certain negative statements about the employer or its management, including accusations of sexual harassment.
  • The secrecy of NDAs hide the true extent of sexual harassment at a workplace, which can lead to other non suspecting women becoming victims.
  • NDA shields serial harassers from accountability, and emboldens them to continue their offensive behavior.
  • When a victim signs an NDA, they risk losing whatever money settlement they received when they signed.
  • Larry Nasser, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby were all protected from NDAs. Weinstein had settlement agreements with at least eight women and his production company made every employee sign an NDA—More than 80 women have accused him of sexual assault.

A Balanced Approach

  • We agree with the advocates in our state that any solution to stop future assaults on women must balance concerns of a victim who wants to resolve her experience of sexual violence on her terms. Some victims prefer confidentiality, and we don’t want to force them to share.
  • While acknowledging all of these concerns, the National Women’s Law Center, ACLU, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and 50 other state and national advocacy groups have jointly identified the abusive consequences of NDAs and called on Congress to take action.
  • In 2016, California became the first state to bar NDAs in civil cases that could be prosecuted as felony sex crimes. In 2018, New York passed a law to prohibit NDAs of sexual harassment claims, unless the victim has 21 days before signing the agreement to review, and then 7 additional days to cancel the agreement. In 2018, Washington passed a law to prohibit employers from requiring employees sign NDAs as a condition of employment.
  • This bill would ban the use of NDA in settlements. A number of details will be worked out in the public hearing and committee process including:
    1. Prohibiting employers from requiring employees to sign a NDA regarding sexual harassment as a condition to employment
    2. Prohibiting a clause in an agreement that silences all parties from disclosing allegations of sexual misconduct
    3. Prohibiting a clause in an agreement that silences any party other than the alleged victim from disclosing allegations of sexual misconduct, thereby allowing the victim to make the decision at a later time to go public
    4. Prohibiting a clause in agreement that silences the victim from disclosing allegations of felony sexual assault crimes, as California has done

Senate Bill 761: An Act Concerning Honest Recommendations in the Workforce

  • With the increased public attention on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, light has been shed on a troubling trend. There are numerous cases of employees leaving one job because of sexual harassment and assault and receiving a new job with a different employer who has no knowledge of this past behavior.
  • There is a real need to change our laws to protect victims from sexual harassment and assault from known offenders. Employers need to be discouraged from passing on problematic employees to other employers. And these employers need to be held accountable for any misleading and false statements that harm others.
  • This bill would create a private right of action against an individual who provides a reference to a potential employer and knowingly fails to disclose or falsifies information concerning acts of sexual harassment or assault committed by the employee.

Senate Bill 765: An Act Concerning Equal Pay

  • Last year Connecticut passed a number of steps to ensure equal pay but there is room to strengthen this legislation. By clarifying legal language and definitions we can remove loopholes and misinterpretation.
  • This bill will take a look at a number of these instances. For example, the word “comparable” is the new standard in comparing positions held by men and women. We are unsure how much legal effect that “comparable” will have and want to see how that is working. “Comparable” is very close to “similar” which was the previous standard in workplace pay and there may be room for improvement.
    • Massachusetts defines “Comparable Work” as work that requires substantially similar effort, and responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions.
    • “Comparable Work” is broader and more inclusive than “equal work” which is the standard of the federal Equal Pay Act
  • This bill would also look at the seniority system. Many employers no longer use this system when deciding on wages and use a merit system instead. There are opportunities to strengthen our laws in this area as well.

Senate Bill 395: An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy

  • A crisis pregnancy center (“CPC”) is a type of nonprofit organization established to counsel pregnant women against having an abortion. CPCs are not regulated in Connecticut.
  • A CPC’s first point of contact with people facing unplanned pregnancies is often through misleading and deceptive advertisements about the services they provide.
  • CPCs are often physically located near reproductive healthcare providers with the intention of confusing people seeking healthcare. Some CPCs are located in areas where there are not many providers, targeting already medically underserved populations in our state including young people, people of color, and people with low incomes.
  • In Connecticut, there are 25 CPCs, including a mobile van that travels around the state.
  • Under the guise of being a comprehensive reproductive healthcare provider, CPCs routinely use delay tactics and medically inaccurate information to steer people away from choosing abortion and other time sensitive reproductive healthcare.
  • This bill would ban false and deceptive advertising practices and require all providers to offer information regarding how to access comprehensive reproductive health care upon request.
  • In addition, the bill would require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose to individuals seeking health care that they do not have licensed medical providers on staff.

Senate Bill 394: An Act Concerning CT protecting women from unfair health and wellness mandates

  • Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, there has been a fierce and desperate national movement to reverse it, even though, according to a Wall Street Journal Poll a record 71 percent of Americans oppose overturning the landmark case. Now, conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court and there currently are over a dozen circuit court cases teed up to overturn Roe.
  • This bill would establish the Council on Protecting Women’s Health. The Council will be tasked specifically with monitoring federal legislation, proposed administrative rules and the progress of litigation relating to women’s health and wellness ensure that the actions of the federal government will not be thwarting women’s health care here in Connecticut.
  • With women’s healthcare under fire on the federal level, this council can review a legal threat, and report to the General Assembly as to what actions we need to take so we can respond quickly and efficiently to preserve quality care for women here in Connecticut.
  • The Council will be bipartisan and will be composed, among others, of representatives from women’s groups and the medical and legal communities.
  • We want to make sure that Connecticut stays a leader in women’s healthcare, and we’ve learned we can’t depend on Washington D.C. to help us. If anything, we need to be prepared to counter the destructive actions of Washington, and this Council will serve as a critical “watchdog” for women’s healthcare at a time when it is desperately needed.

Senate Bill 792: An Act Concerning Discrimination

  • According to a study conducted after the 2016 election, transgender youth are struggling compared to other LGBTQ young people. “Half of transgender youth reported feeling hopeless and worthless most or all of the time, and 40 percent said they mostly or always felt depressed. 70 percent said that these and similar feelings have increased [following the election]. Thirty-six percent had been personally bullied or harassed, and 56 percent had changed their self-expression or future plans because of the election.”
  • Meanwhile, at the federal level, progress on transgender discrimination is being reversed:
    • President Trump banned transgender people from serving in the military.
    • Department of Justice reversed policy that provided non-discrimination protections for transgender people in the workplace.
    • Education Department will not investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity.
    • Department of Housing and Urban Development removed transgender non-discrimination guidelines aimed to protect transgender people in homeless shelters.
    • Staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were instructed not to use the term “transgender,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based” in official documents.
  • With the constant threats and changes at the federal level there is a need for Connecticut to remain vigilant in preventing transgender discrimination.
  • This bill would establish a task force to consider what state laws may be necessary to strengthen protections against transgender discrimination in our schools and workplaces.

Senate Bill 533: An Act Concerning Expanding Access to Diaper Changing Tables

  • According to data shared by Pew Research, fathers reported spending, on average eight hours a week on childcare in 2016, triple the time they spent in 1965.
  • Diaper changing stations are typically found only in women’s restrooms which makes it inconvenient for fathers out in the public alone or same sex male couples. Forcing these men to either change their child on unsanitary restroom floors or counters and even delay changing the diaper which can lead to uncomfortable rashes or infections for the child.
  • California passed similar legislation in 2017 and New York passed legislation last April mandating there must be at least one changing table accessible to both genders per each floor accessible to the public.
  • Federal action was taken in 2016 when President Obama signed a Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation Act, or the BABIES Act, which requires diaper-changing tables in all restrooms in public federal buildings, like courthouses and post offices.
  • The bill will require all newly constructed or substantially renovated buildings with public restrooms to contain at least one diaper changing table for women and at least one diaper changing table for men on each floor of the building that is open to the public. This will greatly increase access to diaper changing tables, enhancing the safety and health of Connecticut’s youngest residents.

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