Senators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators on Wednesday introduced long-awaited legislation that would overhaul how the Senate handles sexual harassment claims.

The bill, from Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post Facebook gives 500 pages of answers to lawmakers' data privacy questions MORE (R-Mo.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix America has reason to remember its consumer protection tradition when it comes to privacy MORE (D-Minn.), would reform the reporting process for victims of sexual harassment and would make members of Congress personally liable for any settlements.

“This bipartisan agreement sends a clear message that harassment in any form will not be tolerated in the U.S. Congress,” Blunt, the chairman of the Rules Committee, said in a statement.

Klobuchar added that the legislation would "help bring accountability and transparency to a broken process."

"For too long victims of workplace harassment in the Senate have been forced into a process that is stacked against them," said Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee.

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Blunt told reporters this week he wants to try to pass the legislation before senators leave on Friday for the Memorial Day recess, which would require the consent of every lawmaker. 

No floor time on the bill has currently been scheduled.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFlake threatens to limit Trump court nominees: report Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats' education agenda would jeopardize state-level success Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan Selling government assets would be a responsible move in infrastructure deal MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement that they are "optimistic ... this bill will pass the Senate in short order." 

"Both parties are coming together to update the laws governing how the Congress addresses workplace claims and protecting staff and others from harassment," they added. 

The legislation would eliminate a 30-day counseling period, a 30-day mediation phase and a 30-day "cooling off" period currently required for victims of sexual harassment under the Congressional Accountability Act.

Victims of harassment would have to notify the Office of Compliance, which the legislation would rename the Office of Workplace Rights, of their intent to file a claim and would need to file it within 180 days of an alleged violation. 

For a senator to be found personally liable under the new legislation, a hearing officer, judge or the Senate Ethics Committee would have to find that a member personally harassed someone. 

It would also require members, including senators who leave office, to repay the Treasury for any settlements tied to harassment they committed. If a settlement isn't repaid within 180 days, the legislation allows the federal government to target a senator's compensation or finances.

In addition to being responsible for settlements of sexual harassment, the bill would hold members personally liable for claims stemming from harassment "based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, genetic information, age, disability, or veteran’s status," according to a five-page breakdown of the legislation. 

Currently, sexual harassment settlements involving lawmakers are paid by using taxpayer funding from a little-known Treasury account. 

The Washington Post reported in December that the Treasury Department has spent $174,000 on settling harassment-related claims over the last five years.

Unlike in House-passed legislation, settlements stemming from harassment claims made against staffers would still be paid out of a Treasury account. 

"Nonmembers would still be covered by their employer ― like every other employee in America is for their actions," Blunt told reporters on Tuesday.

Pressure on the Senate to take action on sexual harassment has been building for months, after several lawmakers resigned amid high-profile scandals. 

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix Richard Painter puts out 'dumpster fire' in first campaign ad Bill Clinton says 'norms have changed' in society for what 'you can do to somebody against their will' MORE (D-Minn.) stepped down from the chamber late last year amid several allegations of sexual misconduct, including a woman accusing him of forcibly kissing her.

Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy Freedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas) announced last month that he would resign from Congress immediately amid backlash over using $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim.

The House passed its own sexual harassment bill late last year. And the Senate cleared a resolution requiring that all senators and staffers undergo sexual harassment training.

But senators in both parties have been increasingly demanding broader legislation to reform a reporting process they view as archaic. 

Every female senator sent a letter to leadership in March arguing that the current system, set up by the Congressional Accountability Act, is "antiquated."

"No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law. It’s time to rewrite the Congressional Accountability Act and update the process through which survivors seek justice," they wrote

Most male Democratic senators, joined by GOP Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Senate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill Hollywood goes low when it takes on Trump MORE (Texas), sent a similar letter in April.

--Updated at 10:31 a.m.