House, Senate Agree on Harassment Bill 12/13 06:08
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on
a bill to overhaul the process for handling sexual misconduct allegations in
The bill updates the decades-old Congressional Accountability Act, which
governs how lawmakers and aides report sexual misconduct claims. The law has
been widely criticized as confusing, cumbersome and unfair to victims of
harassment and abuse.
The push for the legislation took on new urgency in the past year, as more
than a half-dozen lawmakers resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct and
Capitol Hill found itself squarely at the center of the growing #MeToo movement.
Both chambers passed their own versions of the bill earlier in the year. But
negotiations dragged on for more than six months as lawmakers tried to
reconcile them. The sticking points included a $300,000 cap for lawmaker
liability in the Senate's version.
The language of the bill had not been released as of Wednesday evening. But
according to the Senate Rules Committee, it holds lawmakers, including those
who leave office, financially liable for settlements resulting from all types
of harassment and retaliation, but doesn't cover discrimination claims. It also
eliminates mandatory counseling, mediation and the "cooling off" period victims
are currently required to wait before filing a lawsuit or requesting an
The bill requires public reporting of settlements, including identifying
lawmakers who are personally liable, and extends protections to include
interns, fellows and other staff.
House staffers will have access to legal representation, while Senate
staffers will be given access to a confidential advocate able to offer legal
advice but not act as a representative.
The deal was announced just days before the end of the legislative calendar.
"A lot of this was our belief that we had an obligation to fix this
ourselves, and while I have no doubt a new Congress could have gotten it done I
think we needed to fix the mess," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the Senate
bill's sponsor. "The focus was to make sure we had a system that protected
victims and not politicians."
The final bill doesn't include some House measures, including making
lawmakers liable for discrimination settlements and requiring an independent
investigation into harassment complaints at the beginning of the process.
But Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., says she's working with House Democrats
and Republicans to introduce a separate bill next Congress to address those
issues. Speier became a poster child for the #MeToo movement and champion of
anti-harassment legislation on Capitol Hill after sharing her own story of
being sexually assaulted by a high-ranking aide when she was a young staffer.
"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," Speier said. "The House has remained focused on
taking a system rigged in favor of the harassers and making it more
victim-centric. We are committed to offering victims the tools they need to
pursue justice. We will address these issues in the next Congress."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi,
D-Calif., along with Committee on House Administration leadership, released a
joint statement Wednesday praising the bill but acknowledging that more work
"The agreement reflects the first set of comprehensive reforms that have
been made to the Congressional Accountability Act since 1995," it reads. "We
believe this is a strong step toward creating a new standard in Congress that
will set a positive example in our nation, but there is still more work to be
The statement says members of both caucuses "remain committed to working in
a bipartisan manner to address outstanding issues."