Klobuchar, Blunt Announce Bill to Overhaul Handling of Harassment Complaints

Brunilde Fioravanti
Mag 25, 2018

If approved in the House, it would do away with a 30-day counseling period, a 30-day mediation phase and a 30-day "cooling off" period - all now required for those reporting sexual harassment by lawmakers. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

"We want to commend Senators [Roy] Blunt (R-Mo.) and [Amy] Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who have worked tirelessly and in a bipartisan way, to address this serious issue", McConnell (R-Ky.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The Senate has passed a landmark measure that would hold lawmakers personally accountable for sexual harassment, including making them pay for claims out of their own pockets and making those payments public. It requires lawmakers to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for settlements paid with taxpayer funds.

Sexual harassment in Congress is a scandal-and it would probably be a lot more of one if Congress hadn't written its own rules for dealing with allegations in secret.

The senators responded to some of that criticism that their bill is weakened version of the House's bill which passed in February. Only after the committee found harassment would lawmakers be required to foot the bill for a settlement, said critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who became something of a spokeswoman for anti-sexual harassment efforts on Capitol Hill after she shared her own story of being sexually harassed, said in a statement prior to Thursday's vote that the Senate legislation "appears to shift the power back to the institution instead of the victims".

"This 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", the letter said. They also targeted the timeline, saying that senators and stakeholders were not given enough time to review the bill.

The letter also criticizes the bill for specifying that members will only have to repay settlements stemming from sexual harassment, and not other types of discrimination. Although mediation would be the default process, employees would be able to opt out.

Additionally, there is concern that the Senate's legislation would empower and involve the Ethics Committee more so than the House's.

"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. It does not provide legal representation to accusers, a measure that was included in a similar House-passed bill.

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