Bill on Sex Harassment Claims in Capitol Nears Senate Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Republican and Democratic Senate leaders say they’re near agreement on legislation to overhaul the way sexual harassment claims are handled in Congress after revelations of misconduct led several lawmakers to resign.

The legislation would require members to use their own funds instead of taxpayer money to settle claims of sexual harassment, sponsors of the bill told reporters Tuesday. It also would eliminate a required 90-day delay before accusers could take a claim to court. The delay requires 30 days of counseling, 30 days of mandatory arbitration and a 30-day “cooling off” period.

“This involves major reforms to a process that hasn’t changed in decades,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who crafted the measure with Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. “We are reforming the entire system and calling for more accountability for members.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters the measure has broad support from lawmakers in both parties. McConnell said he wants to “move forward quickly.”

The legislation reflects the rapid change on the sexual harassment issue that began last year after multiple allegations of sexual assault brought down one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein. Other executives and high-profile men from entertainment, business and media were ousted from powerful jobs after being accused of mistreating women.

In Congress, Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota resigned after allegations against him, as did Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the longest-serving House member and a civil rights leader. Republican lawmakers who departed included Representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and Blake Farenthold of Texas.

The House passed its own version of the sexual harassment legislation in February. It would allow accusers to file a complaint with Congress’s Office of Compliance, though an employee could file a federal lawsuit within 45 days and end the Office of Compliance investigation. Klobuchar said the Senate bill would give employees 90 days to file a federal lawsuit.

Blunt said he hopes both chambers will pass the bill this week send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

"It would be great if we could get this done before the Memorial Day break,” he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.