Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Sen. Mae Flexer (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Like it did last year, the Senate sent the House a bill that would make a clear statement about workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault, but it’s still unclear if it has the votes in the House.

The bill passed the Senate 35-0 with one Senator absent early Friday morning.

CLICK TO VOTE ON SB 3: An Act Combatting Sexual Assault And Sexual Harassment

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The legislation was spearheaded again this year by Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly.

“The bill that is before us at this early hour of the morning is an important piece of legislation, legislation this chamber has been working on for the last two years,” Flexer said Friday morning. “It represents an update in some leading efforts to combat sexual harassment in our state and also catches our state up with much of the rest of the country in terms of how we deal with crimes.”

The strike-all amendment to the original bill includes four main parts.

The first part deals with training requirements for sexual harassment in the workplaces. Flexer hopes to ensure that every Connecticut employee understands his or her rights if he or she is enduring sexual harassment in the workplace. It also assures that bystanders understand what constitutes sexual harassment so they can support their colleagues.

The second part of the bill updates Connecticut’s laws regarding workplace discrimination by requiring the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) to make training materials available online. The bill requires employers to train all employees, not just supervisors.

In the past, critics of the bill have expressed concerns about how this training requirement will affect small businesses. But this time around, senators seemed confident the training will not be burdensome.

“It’s something I think the business community can live with,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said. “And, in fact, CHRO is working on a system where video learning can take place, such where it is not extraordinarily costly.”

The third part extends the statute of limitations for forced rape or rape by drugs from five years to 20 years. The statute of limitations would also be extended for things like unwanted touching from one year to 10 years.

It would also eliminate the statute of limitations for all children and if a victim was 18, 19, or 20, the statute of limitations would be 30 years following the victim’s 21st birthday, effectively the victim’s 51st birthday.

Connecticut’s current statute of limitations of five years is one of the shortest in the country.

“This legislation will be an important step forward in putting us in the middle of the pack in terms of the length of the period of time we give access to our criminal justice system in terms of victims of these crimes,” Flexer said.

A previous version of the bill moved the five year limit to no statute of limitation. The 20 year statute is a “compromise.”

“I know many people said five to 10; 20 is liveable,” Kissel said.

The fourth part of the bill changes the statute of limitations for civil cases of sexual assault and changes the age of a minor from 18 to 21. Additionally this portion creates a task force to study statutory limitations in civil cases.

Flexer emphasized that some of the most powerful testimony came from victims of civil lawsuits -–  those charging the institution rather than the attacker.

“They were not just failed by their abusers but by the institutions that systematically covered up the abuse they knew was happening,” Flexer said. “We are going to ask victims to serve on the task force, to look at this issue, to look at what other states have done.”

Kissel affirmed that this bill was a “bipartisan” effort reflecting the improvements of legislators like Flexer on the last bill.

“I think it’s a much better bill than what we had before us a year or two ago and I think the key word that was mentioned as this bill was being brought out was ‘bipartisan,’” Kissel said.

“This is a really important piece of legislation at a time when more and more victims are mustering the courage that I can’t fully comprehend and coming forward and telling their stories,” Flexer said.