Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM

A group of Democratic senators, including 2020 contender Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisLiberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday If only woke protesters knew how close they were to meaningful police reform 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 JohnsonHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic Americans must have confidence federal agencies are using the best available science to confront coronavirus 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 RosenUS lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mnuchin sees 'strong likelihood' of another relief package; Warner says some businesses 'may not come back' at The Hill's Advancing America's Economy summit The Hill's Coronavirus Report: CDC Director Redfield responds to Navarro criticism; Mnuchin and Powell brief Senate panel 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.