House Mandates Sexual Harassment Training for Lawmakers, Staff

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By Hassan A. Kanu

The House Nov. 29 passed a resolution requiring all members and their staffs to undergo sexual harassment training in each session of Congress.

The resolution (H.Res. 630), which was introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), passed via a unanimous voice vote. It follows the Senate’s passing of a similar resolution (S. Res. 330) on Nov. 9.

Both chambers have been spurred to action by what Pelosi termed a “watershed moment” in American society and Congress. A number of lawmakers, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and other prominent figures in different industries have faced accusations of sexual impropriety in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein harassment scandal.

Prior to the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed the separate METOO Congress bill. The measure was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It would reform the Congressional Accountability Act, which lays out the process for reporting and prosecuting sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination by members and staff.

The training mandate is a “constructive first step to protect all members of our legislative community from harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” Pelosi said before the measure went to the floor. “This vote is vital to upholding the integrity of the U.S. Congress.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have described mandatory training as a “first step” in addressing sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

“This is an important step in the right direction, but let’s not fool ourselves—it’s a baby step,” Speier said.

Pelosi Changes Tone

Comstock recently told Bloomberg Law that she believes additional measures to combat sexual harassment in Congress will be implemented.

Speier’s METOO Congress bill has gained some bipartisan support. The legislation would shorten required mediation and waiting periods before an alleged victim can file a formal complaint and also would end the practice of Congressional offices paying out harassment settlements from a U.S. Treasury fund.

Americans “are loud and clear, they do not want to pay for our inability to keep our hands to ourselves,” Speier said during the debate.

Pelosi was broadly criticized for a television interview during which she appeared to urge caution when determining consequences for Conyers, who’s been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct by former employees. Pelosi addressed the criticism during her speech, and appeared to alter her approach to the issue.

“It’s very hard to accept that people we admire in public life and here in Congress have crossed the line and broken the public trust,” but “zero tolerance means consequences for everyone, no matter your contributions to our country,” the Democratic leader said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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