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Senate releases new sexual harassment bill

[JURIST] Senators Amy Klobuchar and Roy Blunt [official websites] released a bipartisan bill [text, PDF] Wednesday overhauling sexual harassment policy for members of Congress and Capitol Hill staff, including requiring lawmakers to pay for financial settlements out of their own pockets.

The Senate bill requires members of the House and Senate to reimburse the US Treasury for payment of any settlements, and an annual reporting of these payments will be released. It also gives those filing claims 90 days to require a hearing or file a civil action in federal district court.

Previously, those who submitted complaints were required counseling and a "cooling off period." In addition, the changes to the legislation will: provide employees with access to a dedicated advocate who will provide consultation and assistance regarding proceedings before the Office of Compliance; require awards or settlements automatically sent to the Committee on Ethics for claims against Members of Congress and senior staff; and extend protections to unpaid staff, such as interns and fellows.

The bill is to amend the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 [text, pdf]. The House unanimously passed its own version in February [JURIST report]. The House version allows only 45 days for claimants to take legal action, and requires all staff — not just members — to pay settlements out of pocket. Both versions will need to be reconciled before a final version is signed into law.

In a joint statement, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said they expect the bill to pass quickly [NYT report].

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