The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, DC on January 22, 2018 after the US Senate reached a deal to reopen the federal government, with Democrats accepting a compromise spending bill.
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By Maya Rhodan
March 28, 2018

Every woman Senator is urging Senate leadership to bring up legislation that would address sexual harassment and discrimination on Capitol Hill.

In a letter signed by all 22 women Senators—Republicans and Democrats—the Senators say they are disappointed that the upper chamber has not acted to enact reforms to the 20-year old law that forces survivors of harassment to undergo an arduous process when bringing their claims forward.

In February, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would reform the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, but the Senate has not considered legislation to address the old law.

“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,” the Senators write. “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.”

According to the Associated Press, leadership has responded to the senators’ letter. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he supports having members be “personally, financially liable for sexual misconduct in which they have engaged.” But the leader did not say when legislation to address misconduct would be finished. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “we strongly agree that the Senate should quickly take up legislation to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.”

As the Me Too movement took hold, members of Congress and staff began seeking to address the issue of harassment and discrimination on the Hill. In the time since, several members and staff have resigned, retired, or announced their departures after facing claims of sexual harassment.

Both the House and Senate have passed resolutions that require all congressional workplaces to participate in anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training regularly. The House has also passed a resolution that provides staffers who have been harassed or discriminated against with access free legal representation.

Read the full 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.

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