The Senate must begin debating legislation helping people who work in Congress pursue claims of sexual harassment or discrimination, all 22 female senators said Wednesday in a letter to the chamber's leaders.
"Inaction is unacceptable," the group wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The letter, signed by 18 Democratic and four Republican women, was an unusual bipartisan display of public pressure on party leaders.
The House approved legislation in February requiring lawmakers found culpable of violations to reimburse the Treasury within 90 days if they've used federal money to pay claims against them. Lists of offices reaching sexual harassment settlements would be published twice annually.
The legislation would also speed processes enacted in 1995 for harassment complaints, eliminating required counseling and mediation before people can file cases. Employees could work out-of-office while their complaints are investigated.
David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, said he didn't know when a bipartisan group would finish crafting a Senate bill. He added that McConnell "supports members being personally, financially liable for sexual misconduct in which they have engaged."
In a written statement, Schumer said, "We strongly agree that the Senate should quickly take up legislation to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill."
The letter comes as lawmakers continue reacting to allegations of sexual harassment that have swept Congress and the entertainment, media and other industries. In recent months, at least seven members of Congress have resigned or decided against seeking re-election following allegations of sexual misconduct.
One of the women signing Wednesday's letter, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., replaced one of those men in January: former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who stepped down after being accused of improper conduct by several women.
"Survivors who have bravely come forward to share their stories have brought to light just how widespread harassment and discrimination continue to be throughout Capitol Hill. No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind" slow-moving processes enacted in 1995, the 22 senators wrote.
Both chambers of Congress have enacted measures requiring lawmakers and staff to take periodic anti-harassment training. But in Wednesday's letter, the senators said they felt "deep disappointment that the Senate has failed to enact meaningful reforms" to how complaints are handled.
The lawmakers said the effort to submit the letter was led by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Washington state's Patty Murray and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.