‘Finally, This Is Happening’: New York Lawmakers Toughen Sexual Harassment Laws

The #MeToo movement, along with advocacy by former staffers who reported harassment, helped usher in changes in Albany.
June 21, 2019 AT 7:48 AM

By Vivian Wang

For decades, sexual harassment was the State Capitol’s worst-kept secret.

Even as women climbed the ranks of political power and won legal promises of gender equality, legislators avoided the topic of harassment. Female aides and even lawmakers who tried to complain were ignored or paid to be silent.

Even when harassment scandals burst into public view, lawmakers did not propose bills to strengthen workplace protections, promising instead to dedicate themselves to internal reform.

But under the newly Democrat-led Legislature, that era seems to have ended. Earlier this year, the state held its first public hearings on the issue in nearly 30 years. And on Wednesday, lawmakers passed sweeping anti-harassment legislation that supporters said would make New York’s laws among the most robust in the nation.

The package was the result of more than a year of lobbying by women across the state — including legislators, employment lawyers and celebrities — whose years of anger were given voice by the #MeToo movement. It was also directly tied to a group of former legislative staffers, who formed the Sexual Harassment Working Group to demand hearings and craft policy ideas, many of which were ultimately approved.

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