The House passed a bill to reform the byzantine process for reporting sexual harassment on the Hill on February 6. The Senate still hasn't taken up the measure, and women in the Senate have had enough.
On Wednesday, 22 women senators, both Republicans and Democrats — every single sittin
g female member of the Senate — wrote a letter to Senate leadership demanding the legislation go up for a vote on the Senate floor.
"Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill," the letter reads, "and one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment."
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The letter, sent Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, blasts Senate leadership for stonewalling on reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the legislation that sets forth sexual harassment guidance and policies for congressional offices and members.
In a statement, Schumer's office told Vox, "We strongly agree that the Senate should quickly take up legislation to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill." McConnell's office did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, provisions of the legislation — which has bipartisan support — were even initially included in the omnibus bill President Trump signed on Friday but were stripped out at the last minute. Those provisions included major changes to the sexual harassment complaint process and a requirement that taxpayer funds used to settle harassment lawsuits be reimbursed.
Read the full text of the letter below.
Dear Leader McConnell and Senator Schumer:
We write to express our deep disappointment that the Senate has failed to enact meaningful reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. We urge you to bring before the full Senate legislation that would update and strengthen the procedures available to survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination in congressional workplaces.
Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. In November, with your leadership, the Senate took an important first step in the effort to end harassment and discrimination in congressional workplaces with the passage of S. Res. 330, which requires anti-harassment and discrimination training for all Senators and staff at least once each Congress. While this training requirement was a significant step to address workplace harassment, there was broad, bipartisan agreement at that time that more had to be done to support survivors.
Although the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) implemented meaningful reforms when it became law in 1995, it continues to require survivors to endure an antiquated dispute resolution process, including a month-long counseling session, forced mediation and a 30-day "cooling off" period before a victim can make a decision whether to pursue justice in a courtroom or continue with administrative procedures. The time has come to rewrite the CAA to provide a more equitable process that supports survivors of harassment and discrimination.
The Senate's inaction stands in stark contrast to the bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives that led to the passage of bipartisan CAA reform legislation in February. The House bill includes a number of important provisions, such as eliminating waiting periods before a victim can take their case to court, increased transparency for awards and settlements, and a requirement that Members of the Senate and House pay for an award or settlement stemming from a case of sexual harassment or discrimination that they personally commit.
When the Senate considers CAA reform legislation, we will also have the ability to address an inequity that now exists between House and Senate staff. The House of Representatives passed H. Res. 724 that provides House staff who are survivors of harassment or discrimination access to free legal representation. Senate staff who face similar harassment or discrimination must pay personally for legal representation or represent themselves through complicated legal proceedings. Therefore, the Senate must act quickly to provide Senate staff with the same resources as their House colleagues.
Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill and one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment. 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 a 23-year-old law. It's time to rewrite the Congressional Accountability Act and update the process through which survivors seek justice.