House to vote on sexual harassment overhaul this week
© Greg Nash

The House is speeding up consideration of bipartisan legislation to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policies, with a floor vote now expected by Wednesday.

The House Administration Committee had originally scheduled a markup to advance the bill early Monday evening. But with all the committee members in support of the legislation and floor time available this week, lawmakers decided to hold a vote sooner rather than later.

Lawmakers are expected to pass the bill easily under an expedited process that requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

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The House is also expected to adopt a resolution requiring each employing office in the lower chamber to adopt anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, as well as establish an office to provide legal consultation for staffers for workplace disputes. It will go into effect as soon as the House formally adopts it.

Once the legislation passes the House, the overhaul of Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment reporting system would go to the Senate for consideration. It is unclear when senators might take it up.

The legislation would reform policies established by a 1995 law that dictates how congressional staffers can report harassment. It would streamline the dispute resolution and reporting process, provide staffers with additional resources when filing complaints and establish transparency requirements for taxpayer-funded settlements used to resolve harassment cases.

The bill would also ban taxpayer-funded settlements for lawmakers accused of harassment. Members of Congress who agree to a settlement would have to reimburse taxpayers within 90 days.

The Office of Compliance, which handles the workplace dispute reporting process, would have to publish reports online every six months that detail the amounts of settlements and the employing offices involved.

Government transparency advocates have criticized a provision in the legislation that would prevent the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent ethics watchdog, from reviewing complaints filed through the Office of Compliance. Complaints would instead only be referred to the House Ethics Committee for review, which critics argue takes away a layer of accountability.

A GOP aide familiar with the measure’s deliberations told The Hill that the case of Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdAP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Republican wins right to replace Farenthold in Congress MORE (R-Texas) led to the provision.

A former female staffer accused Farenthold of sexual harassment, which led to an $84,000 settlement. Farenthold no longer plans to run for reelection and has said he will take out a personal loan to reimburse taxpayers.

The OCE had previously reviewed the staffer’s claims and concluded in 2015 that there was not substantial reason to believe Farenthold sexually harassed her. The staffer’s legal counsel had said the OCE’s conclusions “unduly harmed” her case in litigation, leading the House Administration Committee to include the provision limiting reviews to the Ethics Committee.