The Senate passed a bill that overhauls its sexual harassment policies last month, holding Congress members personally and financially responsible even after their terms end for any alleged harassment toward a staffer or employee. The proposed change in policy was sparked not only by the national #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but also by the startling revelation that taxpayer money was used in settlements of multiple sexual harassment cases “involving members of the House.” The payouts amounted to a grand total of more than $342,000 between 2008 and 2012, and $174,000 in the last five years according to the Washington Post. The payouts come from “a little-known Treasury account” funded by taxpayers, and that is currently the case until the law is officially changed.
In addition to shifting the financial liability off the taxpayer, the bill provides that alleged victims no longer need to abide by what USA Today called “archaic congressional rules,” including ones that “force victims of sexual harassment to undergo counseling, mandatory arbitration, and wait for a 30-day ‘cooling off’ period before taking a complaint to court.”
The House of Representatives passed a similar bill, which will now have to “be reconciled” with the Senate version, unless “House Republican leaders agree to accept the Senate proposal without changes.” There are some differences between the two bills they passed, including the amount of time an alleged harassment victim has to file a lawsuit (45 days under the House plan, 90 under the Senate).