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Senate GOP revises sex harassment policy, draws criticism

ALBANY — The state Senate’s Republican majority has issued its revised policy to prevent and investigate cases of sexual harassment that could result in firing staffers and taking action against senators.

The policy immediately drew criticism for a provision that urges victims of sexual harassment to deal with top administrators in the majority and another that emphasizes that false reporting “is a serious act.”

That warning “is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

“We take this issue very seriously,” Maureen Wren, a spokeswoman for the Senate GOP majority said on Wednesday. “The provision that is being referenced by Senator Stewart-Cousins existed previously and has not been changed in any meaningful way. It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint.”

The four-page policy updating a 2007 practice was ordered months ago and is not the result of a sexual harassment claim against a senator, the Senate majority said.

Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who leads the Independent Democratic Conference which shares power with the Republican majority, has denied an accusation that he forcibly kissed a staffer in 2015 outside an Albany bar. Klein has called for the accusation to be investigated by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The investigation is underway.

The Senate policy says sexual harassment is a form of misconduct “and will not be tolerated.” The policy provides penalties for supervisors who fail to handle accusations properly. Sanctions against employees include requiring an apology, counseling and termination.

The policy also notes that if “the investigator determines that any employee has knowingly made false accusations or provided false statements during the investigation, he or she may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause-NY, criticized the policy for a “completely gratuitous warning against false reporting, an attitude typical of the pre-#MeToo era of intimidation.”

Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said the policy fails to create an independent process that isn’t run by top Senate staffers who “have already demonstrated their inability to address these issues.”

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