SPRINGFIELD – A package of bills to increase private-sector protections for sexual harassment victims has advanced out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
The four bills, sponsored by Grayslake Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush, add to lawmakers’ work last session to address sexual harassment and ethics issues in the Legislature.
“Last year, we dealt with a lot of things that happened under the dome,” Bush said. “So this year, a lot of the recommendations from the task force were how we deal with different issues in the private sector.”
The task force is the Senate Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention. It was formed in May 2018 in legislation that, among other things, allowed sexual harassment complaints at the Capitol to be investigated by the Legislative Inspector General without prior approval from the state ethics commission.
The task force’s most recent suggestions take shape in Bush’s bills, which were advanced Tuesday to the Senate floor with bipartisan support.
“They were the issues that came up over and over again,” Bush said. “But the big one is the nondisclosure agreements.”
Senate Bill 30, or the Workplace Transparency Act, would protect employees from being forced to sign nondisclosure agreements relating to sexual harassment, retaliation and unlawful discrimination.
“You’re seeing these agreements used as ways to protect perpetrators,” Bush said. “Victims are not able to talk about the issues or seek civil remedy for them.”
Another bill, SB 1588, adds sexual harassment to the list of grievances which a person can use to get a “no contact” order from a judge. Currently, no-contact orders can be given out for victims of sexual abuse and violence, but not for victims of harassment.
The only bill to not come out of the task force’s recommendations is SB 1507, which opens the path to punitive damages for victims of revenge porn, or the nonconsensual distribution of nude or explicit photos and videos of a person.
“That came as a response to the state representative (Nick Sauer) who was accused of posting nude photos of women without their permission,” Bush said. “Now, there would be a civil remedy for that.”
Sauer, a former Republican lawmaker from Libertyville, was indicted in January on 12 felony charges for creating false social media accounts to post nude photos of women. He had served on the House’s sexual discrimination and harassment task force.
The last bill in Bush’s legislative package is an omnibus bill that, among other things, requires private employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training, allows harassment and violence victims to take unpaid leave from work, and requires large employers in the state to disclose the number of sexual harassment settlements and actions involving them.
“We passed these bills out of committee and will hold them until we have full agreement on them,” Bush said. “But, frankly, there’s 20 of us at the table, and I really believe we’re going to get an agreement.”
There is no set date for the bills to be called on the Senate floor.