After nearly a year of negotiations prompted by the #MeToo movement and highlighted by a battery of lawmaker resignations, the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to address the issue of sexual harassment in Congress.
The measure updates the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, and holds lawmakers financially responsible for any settlements made to resolve sexual harassment allegations. It also eases the process for congressional employees to report inappropriate behavior and adds more transparency to any settlements made to resolve such claims.
“We believe this is a strong step toward creating a new standard in Congress that will set a positive example in our nation, but there is still more work to be done,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, co-sponsor of the bill along with Rep. Bradley Byrne.
No longer will there be a required “cooling off” period or a mandatory counseling and mediation before a victim formally files a lawsuit or complaint. Interns and fellows, who are not included in the 1995 law, are now protected under the terms of the bill. And, each year a report will be generated that details specifics surrounding any settlements that have been made in the House or Senate involving any claims of sexual harassment or retaliation.
Most notably, the bill will require lawmakers to pony up their own money for any sexual harassment-related settlements and not use taxpayer dollars to cover these settlements. According to a House report, about $300,000 of taxpayer money had been used by 13 members to resolve such allegations within the past 15 years.
What the legislation does not provide is legal counsel to victims or an independent investigation at the start of the review process. Reps. Speier and Byrne said they are committed to introducing new legislation in the new congressional term that would go even further in protecting victims.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill.