After months of debate, the House and Senate on Wednesday reached a bipartisan deal to overhaul their current sexual harassment policies, which includes requiring lawmakers to pay out of pocket for some misconduct settlements.
“For too long, victims of sexual harassment in Congress have been forced into a process that lacks transparency and accountability, and fails them at a time when they need the most support,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement. She was a key negotiator on the deal, alongside Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Miss.
The Senate easily passed the bill on Thursday, and the House is expected to do so by the end of next week. For members of Congress who are found guilty of sexual harassment, they’d be required to reimburse the Treasury Department, which would still be responsible for making the initial payment, for settlements.
Other provisions in the bill stipulate that member liability would be capped in cases where a court assesses damages, but not in cases that end in settlements.
It would also allow anyone who is filing a sexual misconduct complaint to immediately pursue an administrative hearing or file a civil action, eliminating a mandated 30-day counseling period, 30-day mediation phase and 30-day “cooling off” period .
In the era of #MeToo, several members of Congress, including Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Trent Franks and Rep. Pat Meehan, resigned this year over allegations of sexual misconduct, shedding light on harassment on Capitol Hill.
According to the Office of Compliance, Congress has doled out more than $17 million over the last 20 years in settlements and payments related to harassment. In 2017, the amount topped $900,000, but came nowhere close to 2002 and 2007, when the number soared past $3 million.