Two lawmakers to testify at House hearing on sexual harassment

Two lawmakers to testify at House hearing on sexual harassment
© Greg Nash

Two lawmakers are slated to appear before the House Administration Committee on Tuesday to discuss preventing sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown This week: Time running out for Congress to avoid shutdown House panel plans bill requiring lawmakers to pay for sexual harassment settlements MORE (R-Ala.) will both serve as witnesses before the committee, along with representatives from the Office of House Employment Counsel and Office of Compliance.

“We need to make certain that the House provides the needed sexual harassment awareness training, as well as policies that support a person's right to report,” House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperThis week: Time running out for Congress to avoid shutdown Issa retiring from Congress House Foreign Affairs chairman to retire MORE (R-Miss.) said in a statement on Thursday.

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Speier has introduced bipartisan legislation to require annual sexual harassment awareness training for lawmakers and staff, who would have to file a certification of completion with the House Ethics Committee. The training is currently voluntary.

She is also working on a bill to overhaul the process available for staff to report harassment complaints to the Office of Compliance. The current process requires Capitol Hill staff to take part in months of counseling and mediation with the employing office before they can file a formal complaint, which Speier says deters people from coming forward.

Speier recently posted a video revealing her own experience of sexual harassment while working as a congressional staffer, charging that a chief of staff once forcibly kissed her.

Byrne, meanwhile, practiced labor and employment law for more than three decades, which included advising businesses on harassment policies and overseeing multiple harassment investigations.  

"He looks forward to providing the committee with suggestions and proposals to help strengthen current House policies regarding harassment," Byrne spokesman Seth Morrow said.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) had asked the House Administration Committee on Wednesday if she could testify at the hearing, citing her experience authoring regulations to explicitly ban sexual harassment while chairing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Norton became the first woman to chair the commission in the 1970s.

“I believe that my past role as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) could provide valuable insight for the committee as it undertakes its review,” Norton wrote in a letter to committee leaders.

But Norton was not listed among the witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing.

Norton also introduced legislation last week to ensure Congress is subject to the same civil rights, health and safety standards applied to federal agencies and the private sector.

The hearing follows Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) urging House members and staff to undergo sexual harassment awareness training.

The training is not mandatory for people employed on Capitol Hill, unlike in the executive branch. But the Office of Compliance, Office of the House Chief Administrative Officer and the Office of the House Employment Counsel each offer optional training for members and staff.

“Each of us has a responsibility to ensure a workplace that is free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” Ryan wrote in a letter to fellow lawmakers last week.

Hours before Ryan implored lawmakers to take the training, The Associated Press had published a story detailing accounts from current and former female members of Congress of sexual harassment by their male colleagues.

The female lawmakers wouldn’t identify the harassers by name, but said at least two are still serving in Congress.

The hearing announcement also follows The Washington Post's Thursday report of allegations that Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for Senate in Alabama, previously sought sexual encounters with teenage girls while he was in his 30s.

Senate Republican leaders have called on Moore to step aside as the party’s nominee if the allegations are true. 

Moore is denying the allegations, calling them a "desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign."