SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers want to ban the use of “hush money” payments as part of an ongoing response to a sexual harassment scandal that’s dogged the Legislature’s top leaders.
The bill prohibits public officials and candidates from using taxpayer dollars or campaign funds to pay for nondisclosure agreements regarding workplace harassment. They also can’t use third-party money to fund such agreements if the alleged harassment took place while the official was in office.
“Aggrieved people should not be paid for their silence, and they shouldn’t be bullied into staying silent for fear of retribution,” said sponsor Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, in a Facebook post.
The ban on nondisclosure agreements is just one of a slew of bills the state’s pursuing to respond to a damning report from Bureau of Labor and Industries, which shone a spotlight on a “pervasive” culture of harassment and intimidation in the capital. The report found that top statehouse leaders, including the Senate President and the Speaker of the House, didn’t do enough to address allegations of sexual harassment against former Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg.
Gelser was one of four women to accuse Kruse of inappropriate touching and behavior. Two interns and another state senator also made complaints, and the report notes the incidents are part of a larger culture of harassment which has intimidated victims into staying silent.
Senate President Peter Courtney confirmed last week that the Legislature is working out the final details of a settlement over the case.
Sixteen other states introduced legislation last year limiting the use of nondisclosure agreements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as part of a national #MeToo reckoning that has touched almost every industry over the past year and a half.