The Connecticut Senate early Friday gave unanimous approval to a bill that overhauls state laws dealing with sexual assault and mandates new training to guard against workplace sexual harassment.
The “Times Up Act,” as the measure was dubbed, is the legislature’s reaction to a number of high-profile cases of sexual harassment in Hollywood and other industries, as well as the widespread priest sexual abuse scandal that has come to light in recent years. It now heads to the state House of Representatives.
A similar bill was approved by the Senate last year but failed to come up for a vote in the House.
This year’s version of the legislation has four components:
Expand sexual harassment training requirements
The measure would require all employers with three or more employees to provide education and training on sexual harassment. Currently, only employers with 50 or more workers need to provide the training. To address concerns the requirement could prove costly for businesses, the bill specifies the training material must be available online.
Enhance Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities
Another provision in the bill extends the time to file a CHRO complaint alleging employer discrimination, including sexual harassment. The bill would also allow the CHRO to seek punitive damages in certain situations.
Extend timeframe for criminal prosecution
The bill would eliminate the current statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual assault against minors. Certain other sexual assault crimes, such as forcible rape, would be subject to a 20-year statute of limitations instead of the current five-year cap.
“These provisions will put Connecticut in line with more that 40 states in the country that have statute of limitations for these sorts of crimes of 20 years or more,” said Sen Mae Flexer, D-Killingly. “Our current five-year statute of limitations is among the lowest in the country.”
Instead of eliminating the statute of limitations altogether, the new 20-year limit represents a compromise to win support from lawmakers who feared a longer window could prevent the accused from receiving a fair trial.
“Twenty is livable,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield. “It’s a much better bill than what we had before us a year ago."
Extend window for sexual abuse lawsuits
The measure would give victims under age of 21 until their 51st birthday to file a lawsuit, instead of their 48th birthday.
“The crime of sexual assault is a incredibly difficult crime to endure,” Flexer said. “There are many reasons victims often don’t initially recognize what exactly has happened to them ... there are a lot of reasons victims blame themselves. ... This change recognizes that."
During a public hearing on the bill in early April, lawmakers heard from several adults who said they had been sexually abused as children by Roman Catholic priests. Flexer said she was “deeply disappointed” the civil statute of limitations allowing victims to sue was not eliminated.
“Some of the most harrowing tales that were told in our public hearing were by people who really hoped for an opportunity for some relief and who were not just failed by their abusers but by the institutions that systematically covered up the abuse they knew was happening,” Flexer said.
The bill establishes a task force that will include sexual abuse survivors and others to assess what other states have done and whether Connecticut should take additional steps in extending the civil statute of limitations.
“This is a really important piece of legislation at a time when more and more victims are mustering a courage I can’t fully comprehend in coming forward and telling their stories,” Flexer said.
Flexer acknowledged the compromises frustrated some victims. “I’ve had many difficult conversations with victims over the last several months who were disappointed this legislation doesn’t go further,” she said. “I want them to know they are still being heard ... their bravery has not gone for nothing.”
The bill touched an emotional chord with state Sen. James Maroney. The Milford Democrat’s cousin, gymnast McKayla Maroney, was one of hundreds of young women abused by former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar.
"For me, this is very personal,'' Maroney said. “For many people who do get to go to court, they aren’t successful, but for many people, that starts the healing process ... this will help many people.”