WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined Rep. Jackie Speier to introduce new legislation that takes aim at sexual harassment in Congress.
“For all intents and purposes, a staffer in the Capitol is powerless and gagged,” Speier said at the beginning of the news conference. Harassers are often allowed to walk away to prey on others, she said.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Republican Reps. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania and Bruce Poliquin of Maine and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire joined the California Democrat in the Capitol Visitor Center.
The legislation, dubbed the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act, would make response training for sexual harassment mandatory for all members and staff, including interns and fellows. It would also require all hearings be complete within 180 days after a filed complaint.
In addition, it would make counseling and mediation optional, create an optional victims’ counsel and allow complaints to be made anonymously.
“It protects the vulnerable, it levels the playing field and creates transparency,” Speier said.
The legislation would also prohibit nondisclosure agreements as a condition of filing a complaint.
“There is a serious sexual harassment problem in Congress and too many Congressional offices are not taking this problem seriously at all,” Gillibrand said. “Congress should never be above the law. Congress should never play by its own set of rules.”
Speier said Tuesday on “Meet the Press” that Congress has spent
$15 million in settlements for harassment, a figure that also includes discrimination cases. Under the proposed legislation, a member of Congress would be required to pay the Treasury the settlement amount in the event of in-office harassment.
The legislation would also list involved members’ offices in settlements, he said.
Poliquin said the executive branch already has a protocol for addressing harassment and it was time for Congress to have a procedure.
Speier said she was encouraged by the actions of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and hopeful the bill would move forward.