Lawmakers Unveil Bill to Overhaul Harassment Policies on the Hill(1)

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By Hassan A. Kanu

House lawmakers introduced legislation Jan 18 that goes beyond requiring mandatory anti-sexual harassment training for Capitol Hill staffers. And it looks like the bill will have the type of bipartisan support that’s become exceedingly rare in recent years.

“It’s been an incredibly amicable, bipartisan process,” a spokesperson in Rep. Jackie Speier’s (D-Calif.) office told Bloomberg Law, adding that the level of collaboration was surprising and almost odd.

The bill, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, was introduced by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and is co-sponsored by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Speier, and others. The CAA is the existing law that sets out the procedures for dealing with sexual harassment or other workplace complaints in Congress.

Both the House and the Senate have passed resolutions for training, but the reform bill—based on an earlier bill called the MeToo Congress Act—is intended to be a comprehensive overhaul of the policies regarding sexual harassment against people employed by lawmakers and congressional offices.

The legislation would do away with mandatory counseling, mediation, and “cooling off” periods before an alleged victim can file a claim, and would make confidentiality optional in each of those processes.

The bill also require lawmakers to use their own funds if they settle a sexual harassment claim, as opposed to taxpayer dollars.

The committee members “sought to work collectively and in a bipartisan manner to identify the necessary reforms that ensure the initiation, investigation, and adjudication processes” and “protect the rights of employees,” the Republican leadership said in a joint statement.

“Both sides have been very focused—you don’t have an opportunity like this often where you can get a bipartisan bill through Congress at this pace that directly impacts members of Congress,” Speier’s spokesperson said.

Speier Optimistic About Passing Bill

Speier introduced measures to reform harassment policies in previous years, but she met resistance from her colleagues and those efforts ultimately failed.

She helped draft the MeToo Congress Act, which was the basis for the current bill, according to staffers for members of the House Administration Committee. The bill includes every provision Speier proposed, and some additions, a spokesperson in her office told Bloomberg Law.

The congresswoman spoke on a podcast hosted by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) a week before the bill was released. She said recent developments involving President Donald Trump and movie executive Harvey Weinstein have created a “sea change” that has her optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“If you’d told me this would happen” some months or years ago, Speier said on the podcast, “I’d have said no chance.”

“But a couple things have happened since,” she added, referencing reports about Trump talking about women in recordings from the Access Hollywood television show; the Weinstein scandal; and the 2017 worldwide demonstration known as the Women’s March.

“The culture change here is happening,” Speier said. “Some of it will take a little time, but I do believe there’s a sea change here.”

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) commended Speier and others for their work, in an e-mailed statement. “During this watershed moment, we must all keep up the drumbeat of energy and activism to end the scourges of discrimination and sexual harassment,” Pelosi said.

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