Senate approves bill reforming Congress's sexual harassment policy

 The Senate easily passed legislation to reform how Congress handles sexual harassment claims as lawmakers scramble to clear the overhaul of their rules before the end of the year.

The chamber approved the legislation by unanimous consent on Thursday, less than a day after senators announced they had an agreement after months of stalemated negotiations between key House and Senate lawmakers.

"The Senate and the House reached a landmark agreement to reform the process by which Capitol Hill itself handles claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, and other workplace violations," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday before the bill's passage.

He added that it "ensures that Members of Congress will be held responsible for their own misconduct — not taxpayers."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, added that the bill "fundamentally changes the way sexual harassment cases are handled."

"The process we have will now protect victims of harassment instead of protecting politics. ... This was something that we had to get done by the end of the year, getting rid of that cooling-off period, getting rid of a lot of the byzantine ways these cases were handled," Klobuchar added from the Senate floor, shortly after the bill was passed.

The House still needs to pass the bill before wrapping up its work for the year as soon as next week.

A final agreement on the bill to reform the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 comes as the "Me Too" movement has rocked Capitol Hill recently.

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Overnight Health Care: House Dems launch major drug pricing investigation | Judge blocks Trump contraception rule rollback | Booker tries to shake doubts about pharmaceutical ties ahead of 2020 | FDA to resume high-risk food inspections MORE (D-Minn.) stepped down last year after several women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct and a growing number of his female colleagues called for him to step aside.

Several lawmakers — including former Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdFormer Texas lawmaker Blake Farenthold resigns from lobbying job Congress sends bill overhauling sexual harassment policy to Trump's desk Senate approves bill reforming Congress's sexual harassment policy MORE (R-Texas) — also used official funds to settle harassment claims.

The compromise would make lawmakers personally liable for settlements related to harassment and retaliation they personally commit, even if they leave office.

The provision was a key sticking point between the House and Senate. The House's bill would have made members personally liable for both harassment and discrimination settlements.

"It really was always about harassment and individual activity. And discrimination is much broader and much harder — certainly, people are still protected if they're discriminated against but they're protected like they would be working for any other employer," Blunt told reporters earlier Wednesday, asked why discrimination wasn't included.

It would also eliminate a 30-day counseling period, a 30-day mediation phase and a 30-day “cooling off” period required for victims of sexual harassment under the Congressional Accountability Act.

And it would require an annual report on settlements, including noting if a member was personally liable and automatically refers awards and settlements involving members or senior staff to the House and Senate Committee on Ethics.

--Updated at 11:49 a.m.