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Montana Democrats Plot to Keep Harassment Victims Gagged

by Matthew Monforton Read Profile arrow_right_alt

One of the most sickening consequences of working for Harvey Weinstein was that, after he was through victimizing you, his attorneys took their turn. Victims with the courage to complain and demand compensation were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) barring them from warning others. Because most of Weinstein’s victims needed money, and knew they would be blacklisted in Hollywood, they signed on the dotted line.

Shockingly, many state governments have used Weinstein’s business model in dealing with their employees by forcing them to sign NDAs as a condition of settling harassment claims.  They thus used taxpayer funds to buy (or more often, coerce) victims’ silence.  Besides raising obvious First Amendment issues, these policies are morally reprehensible.

To their credit, Democratic governors and legislators have responded to the Weinstein scandals by enacting laws rendering sexual harassment NDAs unenforceable. These include the bluest of blue states such as California, Washington, New York, Vermont, and Maryland.

A similar proposal, HB 532, is pending in the Montana Legislature, but with a few twists. 

First, the bill’s sponsor, Bill Mercer, is a Republican.

Second, Montana has a Democratic governor who sees a president when he gazes in the mirror.  Converting that image into reality depends in no small part on silencing harassment victims unfortunate enough to have worked in the administration of Governor Steve Bullock.  And there are a lot of them.  As I’ve noted previously, state employee settlements have skyrocketed since Bullock became governor in 2013. 

HB 532 is retroactive to 2009, and would thus ungag all of the Bullock Administration’s victims if it passes.

Democrats ran interference for Bullock during the committee hearing on the HB 532 earlier today with several making clear via hostile questioning that they will oppose the bill.         

Bullock’s signature issue is enhancing “transparency” during elections. Transparency after elections, however, is something else – a point GOP legislators could highlight by passing HB 532.  Montana Democrats are particularly vulnerable at the moment in light of one of their legislators being exposed last week for sexting a fellow legislator.  Putting HB 532 on Bullock’s desk, and daring him to veto it, would be a great chance for the Montana GOP to force a Democratic governor and presidential candidate to defend employee harassment policies resembling those of The Weinstein Company.

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