After months of debate, the Senate has finally reached an agreement on a bill to curtail sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. And Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell have promised the bill will pass in “short order.”
Introduced by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the bill promises to address major flaws in the current sexual harassment reporting process for members of Congress and congressional staff by reforming the Congressional Accountability Act. (It’s similar to what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been pushing.)
Specifically, the legislation eliminates mandatory “cooling off” periods before victims of harassment can file complaints against their harassers, doubles the length of time victims have to file a lawsuit in federal court, and requires members of the Senate to pay back the Treasury for any settlements related to the harassment they committed.
Currently, if a congressional staffer is harassed, the Office of Compliance initiates a four-step process: a 30-day counseling period, a mediation effort, an administrative hearing or civil action (a lawsuit), and an appeals process. Victims can’t even make a formal complaint about sexual harassment until three months have passed, including a 30-day period after enduring a mediation process with their harasser.
Similar legislation easily passed the House in early February. But after landing in the Senate, anti-harassment legislation has been delayed for months in spite of widespread support, a bipartisan letter signed by every female member of the Senate, and another bipartisan letter backed by 32 male senators, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. A spokesperson for Cruz told me this issue remained a priority for the senator and that he had been working behind the scenes to get more Republican senators on board.
In a statement, Gillibrand, who tried to force a vote on a harassment bill in the Senate last week, praised the bill, saying:
And McConnell and Schumer put out a joint statement praising the bill: