After months of debate, the Senate has finally reached an agreement on a bill to curtail sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote.
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 counseling period that could last up to 30 days, 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 more than two months have passed, including a 30-day period after enduring a mediation process.
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:
Today’s announcement of a bipartisan deal in the Senate that would finally end a system designed to protect harassers in the halls of Congress is an important step forward. By passing this reform, we can finally make sure that when a member of Congress sexually harasses or discriminates against someone on their staff, the taxpayers are not left holding the bag, and it finally removes the barriers that were preventing many victims of harassment and discrimination from reporting what had happened to them, like the absurd “cooling off period” before a formal complaint could even be filed.
And Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer put out a joint statement praising the bill: