No Compromise Yet Between House, Senate on Sex Harassment Bills

Time is running short for Congress to finalize legislation to reform how it handles sex harassment allegations against its own lawmakers.

Supporters of the bills said they remain optimistic, but time is fleeting and momentum has stalled.

The House and Senate have each passed their own version of a bill to change the reporting process for sexual harassment to make it faster and easier for victims to register complaints. Both bills eliminate “mandatory counseling” and “cooling off periods” that accusers have been required to undergo. Both bills also provide victim protections to unpaid staff, such as interns and fellows, and would implement a workplace-wide anonymous survey to provide data on workplace safety and harassment.

The most striking change would require members of Congress to be financially liable for the costs of settlement of civil suits filed against them for sexual harassment. That provision addresses the outrage triggered several months ago, when taxpayer-funded settlements of sex harassment claims were revealed.

A new law to address the issues cannot be finalized until House and Senate leaders agree on a compromise between their differing bills. As midterm reelections approach, legislative days are fleeting before both bills expire in January.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said she remains optimistic a final bill will be approved. Comstock, who helped draft the House legislation, said discussions are continuing.

“We are trying to push the Senate to adopt more of our provisions in there because there is more accountability,” she said. “I feel that we are going to get a bill this month. I have talked with our leadership so I am certainly hopeful that we will see that soon.”

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