Senate Votes to Make Lawmakers Liable for Harassment Penalties

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate passed legislation to revamp the way sexual harassment claims are handled in Congress, requiring lawmakers -- instead of taxpayers -- to pay damages for misconduct toward their aides.

The legislation, passed Thursday by voice vote, comes after a number of senators and House lawmakers resigned after revelations of misconduct.

It would end a required 90-day delay before accusers could take a claim to court. The current delay requires 30 days of counseling, 30 days of mandatory arbitration and a 30-day “cooling off” period.

The House passed a rival version in February. AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan, said leaders are reviewing the Senate bill "and look forward to getting legislation into law."

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 Senate bill’s requirement that lawmakers pay damages, rather than the taxpayer, includes some tough enforcement measures. Lawmakers who leave office would remain responsible for full repayment, with the potential for the payment to be taken from their retirement annuities and non-government wages.

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