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 BluntState and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Clash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November MORE (R-Mo.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates 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 McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? 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 FrankenPolitical world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' Democrats begin to confront Biden allegations 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 FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations 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 CruzLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle MORE (Texas), sent a similar letter in April.

--Updated at 10:31 a.m.