By Taylor McAvoy

By Taylor McAvoy

New laws targeting sexual harassment await governor’s pen

Four key bills targeting sexual harassment passed both chambers and were waiting to be signed by the Washington State governor before the end of session March. 8.

SB 6313, sponsored by Senator Karen Keiser, D-Kent, makes an employment contract void if it requires an employee to waive the right to pursue legal action if she or he faces discrimination in the workplace.

A similar bill, SB 5996, also sponsored by Keiser, makes an employment contract void if it requires an employee to waive the right to pursue legal action if she or he faces sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace. Both bills passed both chambers unanimously in February.

Another bill provides discrimination protections for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and easily passed both chambers by wide margins. HB 2661, sponsored by Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, makes it unlawful for an employer to fire employee or discriminate in hiring based on victimization of sexual assault or domestic violence. It also mandates employers to provide reasonable safety accommodation if a victim requests it. The bill closes a loophole in the law and provides a way for survivors to seek legal remedy if discriminated against based on their status.

Lawmakers even ventured into the realm of gun rights as it relates to domestic violence passing SB 6298, sponsored by Senator Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, by wide margins in both chambers. The bill makes domestic violence harassment a crime for which someone can lose their rights to a firearm. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support because it is narrowly tailored to apply only to people convicted of serious domestic violence and harassment crimes.

This all comes in response to the national Me Too movement. Recently, a new movement emerged as the next step. The Time’s Up movement starts with a letter written to Hollywood actors by the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization comprised of current and former farmworker women.

“We want survivors of sexual harassment, everywhere, to be heard, to be believed, and to know that accountability is possible,” the letter states.

The letter also calls for survivors to have access to justice and support for the wrongdoing they endured, a significant increase of women in leadership roles, and equal pay in the face of systematic imbalance of power.

Washington State has taken its own steps to address equal pay. HB 1506, which modified the Equal Pay Act of 1943, passed both chambers of the legislature Thursday, March 1. The bill provides legal remedies for discrimination in wages and compensation and prohibits employers from requiring employees to not discuss wages with each other.

The Washington State legislature has faced criticism for sexual harassment this session.

The NW News Network, The News Tribune, and The Olympian interviewed eight women earlier this year who accused Washington State Representative David Sawyer, D-Tacoma of inappropriate behavior and in a some cases, harassment. Sawyer is currently prohibited from working with his staff during a House official review of his conduct.

The state legislature also faced a lawsuit by a multitude of newspapers in the state for not disclosing records about accusations of sexual harassment. That lawsuit lead to a Washington State Supreme Court ruling agreeing that lawmakers in the state are subject to public records. Lawmakers then introduced a bill, SB 6617, sponsored by Senator Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, that would essentially exempt themselves from the Public Records Act with few exceptions. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the bill on March, 1.

Sexual assault and harassment allegations against management at the Department of Fish and Wildlife came to light in January. A former manager is awaiting sentencing for a conviction on rape and burglary charges. At the hearing in the Senate hearing in January for SB 6313 and SB 5992, Barbara Baker, commissioner for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said these measures would respond to sexual harassment in ways that change workplace culture.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Baker said at the hearing. “We have a real problem. People are finally talking about it, and this is a good start.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Northwest

Drive-thru COVID-19 virus testing last week in the parking lot near Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett. A study by the University of Washington and UnitedHealth Group, conducted at Everett Clinic locations, found that a less-intrusive form of the coronavirus test would require fewer precautions by health care workers. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
New self-swab COVID-19 test is just as accurate, study finds

The study, under peer review, was led by an Everett Clinic doctor. It could speed up testing nationwide.

Life Care Center (LCC) of Kirkland is facing more than $600,000 in fines for its response to the COVID-19 outbreak in its facility. Samantha Pak/Sound Publishing
Life Care in Kirkland facing more than $600K in fines for COVID-19 response

The facility has until Sept. 16 to pay or address areas of concern or it will be terminated.

Dentist checking patient’s teeth. Sound Publishing file photo
Dental foundation serves Medicaid patients through COVID-19

The Arcora Foundation is also attempting to expand its urgent care database, allowing those with different insurances to use its services during the outbreak.

Gov. Jay Inslee during a press conference April 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Inslee’s Facebook page)
Gov. Inslee extends stay-home order to May 4

As in other states, demand for intensive health care due to COVID-19 is expected to peak later in April.

Amazon.com still has listings for medical equipment, but the website includes a caveat and other protections to ensure equipment is supplied to those who need it. Screenshot
Five businesses warned for price gouging

Ferguson sent cease and desist letters to five businesses, including one in Issaquah.

Inslee to state businesses: Pivot to make medical equipment

The governor said Wednesday that the state must become self-reliant in the fight against COVID-19.

King County domestic and sexual violence services available during COVID-19 outbreak

Advocacy organizations are adjusting their services to meet survivor needs

Enumclaw Rehab center a hotbed for coronavirus

Ten clients and two employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Most Read