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New York Senate OKs new rules on sexual harassment

ALBANY — The New York State Senate voted to overhaul government sexual harassment policies on Monday amid renewed national attention on sexual misconduct in the workplace.

The bill that passed the Senate would create a new, uniform policy prohibiting harassment at all levels of state and local government. A newly formed independent office would be tasked with investigating complaints.

The proposal also would prohibit confidential harassment settlements and allow the government to recoup the cost of settlements between victims and a state employee.

Regarding private companies, the bill would prohibit employment contracts that mandate arbitration of harassment claims.

“Too many serial sexual predators have gotten away with bad behavior over the years,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Catharine Young of Olean.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and some Democratic legislators have proposed their own changes, indicating broad support for modifications to the current patchwork of polices covering state employees and elected officials.

The legislation passed the Senate 55-2; the two votes in opposition came from Democrats who said they wanted a stronger bill. One of them, Sen. Liz Kruger of Manhattan, said there would be time for lawmakers and Cuomo to discuss ways to improve the bill.

“I know both sides of this aisle want to get this right,” she said.

Mark Lennihan, Associated Press 

A helicopter is hoisted by crane from the East River onto a barge Monday in New York City. The pilot was able to escape the Sunday night crash after the aircraft flipped upside down in the water, killing five passengers, officials said.

Francis at 5: Paradigm shift in mercy, migrants and marriage

VATICAN CITY — Whenever Pope Francis visits prisons, during his whirlwind trips to the world’s peripheries or at a nearby jailhouse in Rome, he always tells inmates that he, too, could have ended up behind bars: “Why you and not me?” he asks.

That humble empathy and the ease with which he walks in others’ shoes has won Francis admirers around the globe and confirmed his place as a consummate champion of the poor and disenfranchised.

But as he marks the fifth anniversary of his election today and looks ahead to an already troubled 2018, Francis faces criticism for both the merciful causes he has embraced and the ones he has neglected. With women and sex abuse topping the latter list, a consensus view is forming that history’s first Latin American pope is perhaps a victim of unrealistic expectations and his own culture.

Nevertheless, Francis’ first five years have been a dizzying introduction to a new kind of pope, one who prizes straight talk over theology and mercy over morals — all for the sake of making the Church a more welcoming place for those who have felt excluded.

“I think he’s fantastic, very human, very simple,” Marina Borges Martinez, a 77-year-old retiree, said as she headed into evening Mass at a church in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “I think he’s managed to bring more people into the church with the way he is.”

Many point to his now famous “Who am I to judge?” comment about a gay priest as the turning point that disaffected Catholics had longed for and were unsure they would ever see.

Others hold out Francis’ cautious opening to allowing Catholics who remarry outside the church to receive Communion as his single most revolutionary step. It was contained in a footnote to his 2016 document “The Joy of Love.”

“I have met people who told me they returned to the Catholic faith because of this pope,” Ugandan Archbishop John Baptist Odama, who heads the local conference of Catholic bishops, said.

“Simple as he may be, he has passed a very powerful message about our God who loves everybody and who wants the salvation of everyone.”

Another area in which Francis has sought change extends into global politics, with his demand for governments and individuals to treat migrants as brothers and sisters in need, not as threats to society’s wellbeing and security.

After a visit to a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, Francis brought a dozen Syrian Muslim refugees home with him on the papal plane. The Vatican has turned over three apartments to refugee families. Two African migrants recently joined the Vatican athletics team.

His call has gone largely unanswered in much of Europe and the United States, though, where opposing immigration has become a tool in political campaigns. Italians in the pope’s backyard voted overwhelmingly this month for parties that have promised to crack down on migration, including with forced expulsions.

The Pew Research Center found that while Francis still enjoys a consistently high 84 percent favorability ratings among U.S. Catholics, an increasing number on the political right believe him to be “too liberal” and naive. Despite all the talk of “the Francis effect” bringing Catholics back to church, Pew found no evidence of a rise in self-proclaimed Catholics or Mass-goers.

Whether he ultimately will be remembered as a unifying or divisive figure, the world has gotten to know the man formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina who emerged on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica as pope on March 13, 2013, and quipped that his brother cardinals had to search to the “end of the Earth” to find a new leader.

Trace of mothballs chemical found in state agencies' water

ALBANY — State employees working in the Albany office building that's the tallest in upstate New York are drinking bottled water after a chemical used in mothballs was detected in water samples.

The Office of General Services said trace amounts of naphthalene were found in samples taken from faucets inside the 44-floor Corning Tower, located on the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany.

OGS, headquartered in the tower along with the health department, said the amounts were well below the state and federal drinking water standard for naphthalene.

The tests were conducted Friday after workers complained the water from sinks and fountains was cloudy and had an odor.

The agency says it's looking into whether work being done on several water tanks led to the problem.

Today in History

On March 13:

1781 — The seventh planet of the solar system, Uranus, was discovered by Sir William Herschel.

1865 — Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a measure allowing black slaves to enlist in the Confederate States Army with the promise they would be set free.

1901 — The 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, died in Indianapolis at age 67.

1996 — A gunman burst into an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and opened fire, killing 16 children and one teacher before killing himself.

2013 — Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope, choosing the name Francis; he was the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.

Thought for Today: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

John Stuart Mill, English philosopher and economist (1806-1873)