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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (D-N.Y.), Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push The Memo: Trump allies see impeachment push backfiring on Democrats 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.