Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Thursday introduced a bill along with eight Republican co-sponsors in the Senate to change the way Congress deals with harassment and discrimination claims.
The recent spate of sexual misconduct claims against lawmakers on Capitol Hill has prompted Congress to scrutinize the current laborious, secretive process for reporting and addressing sexual misconduct on the Hill. Several lawmakers have introduced proposals to change the system, and Gillibrand’s is the latest to do so. Her bill has the distinction of having eight Republican co-sponsors, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the senate.
“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Gillibrand said in a statement Thursday announcing the bill. “There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”
The legislation, titled the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, would have victims decide how to resolve their complaint, according to Gillibrand’s office. The current system requires victims to go through counseling before filing a formal complaint, an aspect that has been widely criticized by Democrats.
The bill would also mandate that members of Congress pay any settlements out of their own pockets and that any settlements for a member must be approved by the House or Senate ethics committee, Gillibrand’s office said in a press release about the legislation. It would also require Congress to publicly disclose any settlements unless the victim asks for the settlement to remain private.
The legislation also includes provisions mandating sexual harassment training, creates the position of a confidential adviser to help those filing reports of harassment or discrimination, and would change the name of the office that handles these issues from the Office of Compliance to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, per Gillibrand’s office.