Senate passes bill governing sexual harassment cases in Congress

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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.

The measure passed by voice vote, meaning no senator had to record his or her individual vote. It now must be fused with a slightly different bill that the House of Representatives passed.

The Senate bill seeks to expand options for employees seeking to make a complaint and has broad bipartisan support.

“With this agreement, both parties are coming together to update the laws governing how the Congress addresses workplace claims and protecting staff and others from harassment,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Wednesday, when the bill was released.

The Senate bill gives accusers 90 days after filing a claim to request a hearing or filing a civil action in federal district court. It scraps a mandatory 30-day “cooling off period” before such claims can proceed, and it would establish a dedicated advocate who would be available for consultation throughout the process.

It requires members of both chambers to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for awards and settlements arising from harassment they themselves commit – including members who leave office – and requires annual public reporting of those payments.

The House bill, passed in February, includes a 45-day period for claimants to take action, in federal court, half the time in the Senate bill.

“This legislation will help bring accountability and transparency to a broken process, ensure victims can immediately seek justice, and hold Members of Congress accountable,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee said in a statement released Wednesday with committee chairman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had expressed frustration that it took so much time for the Senate to pass its bill after the House’s efforts three months ago. After news broke that Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, was refusing to repay Treasury an $84,000 settlement, she reiterated her calls for the Senate to take up the bill.