Senate reaches deal on new sexual harassment policy

Senate reaches deal on new sexual harassment policy
© Greg Nash

Senators are planning to unveil new legislation overhauling the chamber's sexual harassment policies as soon as Tuesday.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (R-Mo.) said that both he and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe 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 Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November MORE (Minn.), who has been leading talks for the Democrats, briefed their respective caucuses during weekly policy lunches. 

"I think we'll have legislation prepared by the end of the day today, and she and I will jointly put out some sort of outline on what we've talked to our members about today sometime later this afternoon," Blunt said.

Blunt and Klobuchar hadn't released a framework for the deal, or the text of legislation, as of Tuesday evening. A Senate aide didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on updated timing of the legislation. 

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But that legislation, according to Blunt, would reform the reporting process for victims of sexual harassment and would make members of Congress personally liable for any settlements.

"In the current law the victim in a harassment situation has to have 30 days of counseling, then there was another 30 day period where you had to have mandatory arbitration and then a 30 day cooling-off period ... We will be eliminating those things. And members for harassment will have personal liability," Blunt added. 

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.

Senators have been privately negotiating on legislation to overhaul the Congressional Accountability Act, with Blunt and Klobuchar indicating as late as Monday evening that they were close to an agreement. 

Klobuchar said on Tuesday that the legislation involves "major reforms to the process" and that she received "positive" feedbacks from Democrats during their closed-door meeting. 

"We hope to be announcing and putting this language out very shortly," she said.

A House bill passed in February would reform the Congressional Accountability Act and put lawmakers on the hook for any settlement payments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill McGrath campaign staffers to join union Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention MORE (R-Ky.) hasn't specified when he will bring the legislation up on the floor but indicated that lawmakers were "very close" to an agreement that "hopefully everybody will be able to sign off on." 

"I think it's safe to say that we're very close and hope to move forward quickly," he said.

Blunt added that he and Klobuchar needed to "compare notes" after the separate party lunches but "it would be great if we could get this done before Memorial Day break." 

— Updated at 7:55 p.m.