Former staffers push Congress for action on sexual harassment measure

Former staffers push Congress for action on sexual harassment measure
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A group of former congressional staffers sent a letter to House and Senate leaders Tuesday calling for the passage of stalled legislation to reform how Congress addresses sexual harassment claims.

"Exactly one year ago, many of us joined over 1,500 of our fellow former congressional staff members in urging you to undertake a series of reforms aimed at recognizing and combating the problem of sexual harassment and discrimination on Capitol Hill," reads the letter.

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"Today we write to thank you for your efforts on the issue to date, and to express our hope that you will take the necessary steps to bring those efforts to fruition before the end of the 115th Congress."

Two of those who signed the letter, Kristin Nicholson and Travis Moore, are the co-founders of Congress Too, a group of ex-staffers dedicated to reforming sexual harassment and discrimination policies.

The other signatures belong to ex-staffers who say they experienced discrimination or sexual harassment while working in Congress.

The Senate and the House both passed their own versions of legislation reforming how sexual harassment claims are addressed in Congress earlier this year.

But the matter has not been addressed in a bicameral conference.

"We understand that negotiations on the Congressional Accountability Act reform legislation are ongoing, and we have been encouraged by reports of progress and positive discussion," the letter reads. "Unfortunately, time is running out to make these improvements a reality."

The ex-staffers pushed for four elements they say should be involved in any reform.

One is to allow alleged victims to opt in to counseling and mediation, rather than choosing to opt out, as they can in the current system.

"Some of us have personal experience navigating the Office of Compliance process and know first-hand that these requirements can be used to further pressure victims at an already difficult time," the letter reads.

Another is to facilitate substantive, independent investigation into accusations.

Additionally, they ask for regular reporting on the use of taxpayer-funds to settle cases.

"We urge transparency and regular public reporting of such taxpayer-funded settlements, while ensuring that victims’ privacy is protected, and we believe that non-disclosure agreements should never be required without the victim’s consent."

Finally, the letter suggests that the legislation require lawmakers to personally reimburse the Treasury for any settlement charges.

The letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer Sanders blasts Trump for picking 'completely unqualified' Pence for coronavirus response Trump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report MORE (D-N.Y.), Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGaetz tells CPAC he won't take PAC money Paul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? MORE (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Hillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (D-Calif.), who is working to take over as Speaker when the new Congress begins in January.

A spokesman for Pelosi said that "it is long overdue for Congress to take action in this area."

"If the House and Senate cannot resolve the differences in these two bills, then the Senate should pass the House’s stronger bill immediately," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told The Hill.

Updated: 6:05 p.m.