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Congress Passes Sexual Harassment Bill By Unanimous Consent

Final legislation introduced shortly before both chambers passed it

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House and Senate on Thursday passed new legislation overhauling the process for handling sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill, one day after the announcement of a joint agreement on the measure. The legislation will head to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

[Read the bill text]

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri led the passage of the bill, by unanimous consent. Blunt worked with the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., along with party leaders and several House members on the deal.

“This was something we had to get done by the end of the year. Getting rid of that cooling off period, getting rid of a lot of the … byzantine way these cases were being handled,” Klobuchar said. “This is going to be better for victims, and I’m proud that the Senate has come together on a bipartisan basis to get this bill done.”

Watch: Senate Quickly Passes Sexual Harassment Bill By Unanimous Consent

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Klobuchar said she and other senators involved would have more to say on the measure later on. The final legislation was introduced earlier in the day on Thursday.

The bill, which is expected on the House floor next week, overhauls the reporting and resolution process established as part of the 1995 law that governs workplace harassment and discrimination claims in Congress, dubbed the Congressional Accountability Act.

“The process we have will now protect victims of harassment instead of protecting politicians,” said Klobuchar.

A major goal of the legislation is to end the practice of settling harassment claims against lawmakers with taxpayer dollars.

“Time’s up for lawmakers who sexually harass … They will no longer be able to slink away and have no one know they harassed,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

The Office of Compliance has handled cases totaling at least $15 million in settlements about harassment or discrimination allegations since 1997. The practice flew under the radar until the #MeToo movement emerged in late 2017 and lawmakers and taxpayers began to call for change.

More than 1,500 former congressional staffers sent a letter last year demanding changes to the law to protect accusers.

The joint bill would hold members liable for their own bad behavior, but not for that of their staff.

The House plans to take further action beyond the joint overhaul of the CAA. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week that if a compromise was struck on policies for all of Capitol Hill, the House could enact additional policies for their own chamber focused on areas where members think joint legislation doesn’t go far enough.

“While this compromise with the Senate is a good first step, House Republicans and Democrats remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner to address outstanding issues in the 116th Congress, including passing legislation which holds Members personally liable for discrimination, reauthorizing the Employee Advocate, and strengthening our workplace rights and responsibilities education program,” said House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper, Robert Brady, Paul D. Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Bradley Byrne and Jackie Speier in a statement Wednesday night. 

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