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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signs sexual harassment bills

The laws require the county to track sexual harassment complaints, lawsuits and settlements involving the county.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on Feb. 21, 2018, signed two bills, aimed at combating sexual misconduct in the workplace following widespread allegations of abuse in business, entertainment and government. (Credit: James Carbone)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Wednesday signed legislation to mandate tracking of past and future sexual harassment complaints, lawsuits an settlements involving the county “to send a strong message” that Suffolk “has zero tolerance” for such behavior.

Bellone also disclosed plans for all county workers to receive training so they can recognize harassment and prevent it.

One bill signed Wednesday, sponsored by Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) and William Lindsay III (D-Oakdale), will by March will provide county lawmakers with information on past harassment complaints and lawsuits by department, type and disposition, dating back to 2015. The law requires similar annual reports in the future.

A second measure signed by Bellone requires that new employees be given material on their workplace rights as soon as they are hired, instead of up to 30 days on the job.

“There’s no denying sex harassment has been in the news on almost a daily basis . . . a topic of national conversation . . . that’s long overdue,” said Bellone.

Bellone, who has two daughters, said “We want to protect our children and know they will be safe when they go out and get a job. They shouldn’t be worrying about anything else other than advancing their career or getting that promotion.”

“Today we end the cycle of abuse and silence,” said Martinez. She said she has her “own story” of harassment that was handled properly 15 years ago, but “stays with me today.”

Lindsay also said it’s important to educate different generations of workers about “what is acceptable and not acceptable.”

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said statistics are important because “it is our responsibility to oversee and fully understand this problem” so officials can identify trouble spots and take corrective action.

Bellone said the plan he announced Wednesday for “extensive online harassment training” for all county workers is under development. Suffolk will seek proposals from outside vendors and have training up and running later this year, he said.

“It’s not about punishment — it’s about the exact opposite,” said Bellone. “This is about prevention and safety . . . we want to stop bad conduct before it materializes.”

Bellone’s proposal supplements legislation passed in December. That law mandates that 150 elected officials, department heads, their deputies and aides involved in labor relations receive four hours of classroom sexual harassment training every two years. Officials aim to begin that training in May.

Both training initiatives will cost less $100,000, Bellone said.

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