Civil Rights Groups Rip Senate Bill Revising Its Own Sexual Harassment Policy

25 May, 2018, 10:42 | Author: Cecil Buchanan
  • Senate Passes Bill to Hold Lawmakers More Accountable for Sexual Harassment

The legislation would eliminate a 30-day counseling period, a 30-day mediation phase and a 30-day "cooling off" period now required for victims of sexual harassment under the Congressional Accountability Act. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) finally hashed out the current Senate bill this week. The Senate gave swift, unanimous approval on May 24, 2018, to a bill that revamps the system for handling sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill. It would also require members of Congress to reimburse the government for monetary settlements resulting from harassment by them.

Blunt said he has not talked to the White House about the legislation yet but sent a pretty direct warning that the President should sign the finished product Congress eventually sends to him and leave the negotiations around the bill that pertains to Congress to lawmakers. Klobuchar says she expects a vote in the full Senate after lawmakers have time to review the bill. Both the House and Senate bills would require lawmakers to use their own money to cover the cost of settling such matters.

The senators responded to some of that criticism that their bill is weakened version of the House's bill which passed in February.

They wrote that the bill "contains numerous provisions that are contrary to key principles we've previously articulated, falls short of an acceptable compromise, and may have unintended negative consequences".

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There also is criticism of the Senate's bill among some outside advocacy groups, which have written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expressing concern that the House bill became essentially too watered down in the Senate's negotiations.

The Treasury Department spent $174,000 to settle claims of sexual harassment and sex discrimination arising in House member offices from 2008-2012, according to a December report by The Washington Post. Several lawmakers who resigned amid harassment accusations promised to repay the funds, and one, former Rep. Patrick Meehan, did repay $39,000 to taxpayers. Although mediation would be the default process, employees would be able to opt out.

"The world is changing, and the Senate needs to change with it, and I would argue the Senate should be in the lead", Klobuchar said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The bipartisan legislation, which had more than 40 co-sponsors in the 100-seat Senate, would also make public the harassment settlements and the lawmakers involved, automatically refer such settlements to the Senate Ethics Committee and more closely track allegations of harassment within the U.S. Capitol.

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