Yesterday, Congress finally passed a deal to update its sexual harassment policy; the new policy now requires lawmakers to use their own money, not taxpayer funds, to settle suits for workplace sexual harassment.
The new policy no longer allows members of Congress to use tax dollars to pay for sexual harassment settlements. Provisions such as requiring Capitol Hill staffers who report sexual harassment or discrimination to undergo counseling, mandatory arbitration, and wait for 30 days in a “cooling off period” before they are able to go to court have been removed.
The House and Senate have been negotiating for months on how to reform Congressional sexual harassment policy. The policy’s top sponsors, Reps Gregg Harper, Bradley Byrne, and Jackie Speier, released a statement describing the new law as focusing on “protecting victims, strengthening transparency, holding Members accountable for their personal conduct, and improving the adjudication process.”
The difficulty in passing this legislation stemmed from the House’s demands for more rigorous punishments and transparency, which Republican members of the Senate would not agree to. Senate Republicans wanted to weaken the language of the House bill passed, such as language requiring members of Congress to pay using their own money for discrimination settlements and providing legal representation for all accusers of sexual harassment and discrimination. These two provisions were rejected by Senate Republicans and ultimately did not pass.
Jackie Speier said that “taxpayers should never foot the bill for Members’ misconduct… And having spoken with many survivors, the process of going up against a lawyer for the institution and the harasser was as traumatic, if not more traumatic, than the abuse they suffered… We are committed to offering the victims the tools they need to pursue justice. We will address these issues in the next Congress.”
Speier has promised to work with Democrats and Republicans in the House to pass the more stringent provisions that did not make it through the Senate in the upcoming term. The House can pass a resolution, without the Senate’s support, to put the rules in place for its own body.
Four out of every ten congressional staff members say that sexual harassment is a problem at the Capitol, while one in six aids say they are a survivor of sexual harassment.
The House first passed sexual harassment legislation in February while a weaker version of the bill was passed in the Senate in May. The Senate struggle to negotiate the differences between the two bills until this past week.
Media Resources: HuffPost 12/13/18; Feminist Newswire 11/15/18; 12/2/17