Nearly one month after the House of Representatives passed sexual harassment legislation to reform the way lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill handle those cases, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is calling out Senate leadership.
“The changes that need to be made are simple and urgent,” Gillibrand writes in a letter sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also writing, “The more time that goes by without addressing this broken system, the more people suffer.”
The legislation the New York Democrat proposed last year, which has bipartisan support, would overhaul how sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill are handled. The bill includes removing the requirement that victims undergo mandatory mediation before filing an official complaint. It would also require accused lawmakers to pay settlements with their own money. It aims to boost transparency and will also require members and staff to go through mandatory sexual harassment training every year, and seek to give victims and whistleblowers more support.
Gillibrand wrote, “Something must be done. The House acted, now it is time for the Senate to do its part.”
The House passed their version of the bill in early February to reform the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. Ethics watchdogs, however, say the bipartisan House bill would weaken the authority of the Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent entity currently handling lawmakers’ behavior.
Leaders have acknowledged that there would likely be some changes made to the Senate bill.
But in the three weeks since the House’s passage, there hasn’t been tangible movement on the Senate legislation, in part because there are at least three different proposals that are being put forward by Senators and– and in part, congressional aides acknowledge, is due to the amount of other work on the Senate’s plate this month. There are versions of the bill from Sens. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.
In her letter, Gillibrand urged McConnell and Schumer to hold a floor vote on the bill she has sponsored or include it in the spending bill that would need to get passed in late March. Congressional aides say they are hoping to attach the sexual harassment legislation to the upcoming spending bill, saying this is the most likely way forward.
The push for legislation to tackle sexual harassment came in the wake of the #MeToo movement and after reports surfaced of how lawmakers have settled sexual harassment complaints quietly and using taxpayer money.