The Senate on Thursday passed legislation to overhaul the way Congress deals with sexual harassment in its ranks, a response to the #MeToo movement that swept the nation and forced several lawmakers to resign under a cloud of misconduct allegations. "We're optimistic that after our members review the legislation, this bill will pass the Senate in short order". It eliminates rules forcing people claiming sexual harassment to undergo counseling, mandatory arbitration and an absurd 30-day "cooling off" period before taking a complaint to court.
In an exclusive joint interview with CNN, Klobuchar and Blunt responded to criticism from outside advocacy groups about the bill, and said they hope to have a final bill worked out and passed this summer so that the President can sign it into law. Amy Klobuchar and praised by leaders of both parties in the Senate.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who became something of a spokeswoman for anti-sexual harassment efforts on Capitol Hill after she shared her own story of being sexually harassed, said in a statement prior to Thursday's vote that the Senate legislation "appears to shift the power back to the institution instead of the victims".
The Leadership Conference raised concerns in their letter that members of the Ethics committees would have access to settlement documents as part of the review process - without redaction of the claimant's name and identifying information. "Hopefully we can iron out some of those differences, because in the end, the balance of power has always been with the harasser and the institution". It will now be sent to the House, which passed its own legislation past year.
But critics say the bill doesn't go far enough to hold lawmakers accountable and protect staff members from misconduct and discrimination.
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The Senate bill also doubles of the amount of time a victim has to decide if they want to file a lawsuit.
Key House members, who wrote their version of the bill more than three months ago, said the Senate version lets lawmakers off the hook for payments in discrimination and retaliation cases, as well as harassment settlements.
The new Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, which would replace the current Office of Compliance, would be required to report annually to Congress and to publish on its website all awards and settlements when members are found to be personally liable from the previous year.
"This is a unique acceptance of personal liability", Blunt said, noting that the settlement payment and also reporting provision would lead to "reputation damage" to the senator having to make the payment out of their own pocket.
The House bill would make lawmakers liable even without an ethics committee ruling.