Almost a year after Congress announced plans to pass sexual harassment legislation, Mitch McConnell announced that the legislation can still move forward before 2019. The House passed sexual harassment legislation in February while a weaker version of the bill was passed in the Senate in May. However, the Senate has struggled to negotiate the differences between its bill and the House bill passed earlier this year.
The Senate and House legislation aims to update the Congressional Accountability Act in the wake of the #MeToo movement and multiple Congressional sexual harassment scandals. The Senate legislation eliminates the mandatory period before survivors can report sexual harassment, increases the length of time survivors have to file a lawsuit, requires Senators to reimburse the Treasury for settlements related to harassment claims, and the Senate Ethics Committee would have to find the Senator personally liable. The House bill does not include oversight from the ethics committee but makes lawmakers personally liable for claims of discrimination as well as sexual harassment.
House members are disappointed with the Senate bill, believing it does not do enough to protect survivors and hold Congressional leaders accountable for their actions. Rep. Jackie Speier requested going to conference with Senate leaders because she views the Senate bills as “shift[ing] the power back to the institutions instead of the victims.” House members and outside organizations are concerned that the Senate legislation lacks “transparency and accountability,” because members of the Senate would have to charge their colleagues as liable for sexual harassment claims. Critics are also concerned with the Senate’s definition of harassment as “unwelcome harassment,” potentially leaving loopholes that would make sexual harassment claims more difficult for survivors.
Lawmakers would have to reconcile the differences between the two bills for it to pass through Congress; an ambitious agenda that McConnell says is still possible. Lawmakers may decide to attach a version of the bill onto an appropriations package that must be passed by December 7th, when the government will run out of funding.
Media Resources: Vox 11/14/18; Vox 5/24/2018; The Hill 5/25/18; Feminist Newswire 12/2/17