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Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM

A group of Democratic senators, including 2020 contender Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWho will replace Harris in Senate? 'Rising' discusses Wisconsin formally declares Biden won election following recount Moderate Democrats: Everyone's older siblings MORE (D-Calif.), on Thursday introduced a bill aimed at combating sexism within the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The bill, called the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019, comes in response to a study published last year that found 58 percent of women in STEM fields say they have been sexually harassed. It is the companion measure to a House bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll House passes legislation to boost election security research Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump campaign tweet of Biden clip as manipulated media | Democrats demand in-person election security briefings resume | Proposed rules to protect power grid raise concerns MORE (D-Texas).

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The legislation would authorize $17.4 million annually to fund federal research about sexism and discrimination in STEM while directing the National Science Foundation to update its professional standards.

Harris in a statement said the bill is close to her heart as the "daughter of a barrier-breaking woman in STEM research." Her mother was a breast cancer researcher.

"As the daughter of a barrier breaking woman in STEM research, I know the importance of ensuring more women enter and excel in this field," Harris said. "As more women enter STEM fields, we must do more to ensure appropriate steps are taken to change the workplace climate and prevent sexual harassment." 

Sens. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses MORE (D-Nev.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are also co-sponsors of the bill.

“Sexual harassment is an issue that affects every type of workplace – and it’s especially pervasive in academia and among those working in the sciences, a field that’s been traditionally male-dominated,” Rosen said in a statement. “This legislation will take much needed steps to address this issue by directing the Office of Science and Technology Policy to issue uniform sexual harassment policies that will help empower survivors to come out from the shadows and share their stories.”

The bill aims to study "the factors contributing to, and consequences of, sexual harassment" in STEM through research grants, a federal interagency working group and national data collection. 

It is the amended version of Johnson's bill, which was reintroduced in February. That bill, which currently has 61 co-sponsors, would ask the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a set of policy guidelines for federal agencies to follow when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in last year's study found that women of color are more likely to experience sexual harassment and feel unsafe at work in STEM.

The study concluded that sexual harassment reporting procedures are inconsistent at the various federal science agencies.

"By shining a light on sexual harassment in STEM, this legislation is a step in the right direction to fostering an environment across STEM where everyone is safe and able to achieve their full potential," Harris said. 

The legislation has already been sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers, the American Educational Research Association, the American Mathematical Society and other groups. 

Updated at 2:37 p.m.