California bill would require hotels to ban guests accused of harassment

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Two California state assemblymen have proposed a bill that would require hotels to equip housekeepers with portable "panic buttons" they can press when threatened.

Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) co-authored the bill, which is the first of its kind to be proposed on a statewide basis. Similar initiatives have been approved in Seattle and and Chicago.

Also, California hotels would be required to keep records of all guests accused of either assault or harassment on file for five years. When a hotel employee under oath accuses a guest of sexual harassment or violence, that guest would be barred from the hotel for three years.

 "We have heard much about the danger for hotel maids, who often work in situations that put them at risk of sexual assault or harassment," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi in a statement. "This would be an important step in keeping those employees safe from harm."

Kerry Jacob, a spokesperson for Muratsuchi, said the assemblyman's office has had discussions with the hotel industry and added that the bill will be heard by this spring. Jacob declined to estimate how much panic buttons would cost hotels, saying the cost depended on the size of the hotel staff.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) said it is evaluating the California proposal.

Seattle voters in November 2016 voted in favor of Initiative 124, which was backed by the local chapter of Unite Here, the hotel workers' union.

The initiative requires hotels with 60 or more rooms to issue "panic buttons" to employees who work alone in guest rooms. Hotels are required to keep lists of guests accused of assault or harassment for five years from the date of the last accusation. Any guest accused of assault, sexual assault, or sexual harassment must be banned from the hotel for a minimum of three years.

Unite Here estimated that 53% of Seattle hotel housekeepers reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault at work.

Initiative 124 also puts a cap on the number of square feet a housekeeper can clean during a shift and requires hotels to help pay for workers' health insurance.

The law has been subject to lawsuits and appeals from the hotel industry. The AH&LA was among the entities that filed suit, saying that barring guests accused of assault or harassment "strips our guests of their due process rights."

The group is more amenable to Chicago's "Hands Off, Pants On" ordinance, which was passed by the Chicago City Council last October. The ordinance does not call for the banning of guests accused of assault.

The Chicago Federation of Labor and the local United Here chapter helped craft the bill, citing an October 2016 survey saying that 58% of hotel workers said they were sexually harassed by a guest.

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