All 22 women in the Senate — both Republican and Democrat — together wrote a condemnatory letter to their chamber leadership, urging them to overhaul how Capitol Hill handles sexual-harassment claims.
In early February, the House of Representatives approved legislation to reform how Congress handles these types of reports — a step the Senate has yet to take. Frustrated by their chamber’s inaction, Democrats Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Patty Murray spearheaded writing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, which every female senator signed.
“We write to express our deep disappointment that the Senate has failed to enact meaningful reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995,” the letter says. “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.”
The bill the senators want reformed is the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which established the process for handling sexual-harassment complaints on Capitol Hill. However, as the senators write in the letter, the legislation forces 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.”
Much of what the senators desire are in the the House’s reform of this bill — no more waiting periods, increased transparency surrounding settlements, and the explicit requirement that lawmakers pay for their own settlements that stem from sexual-harassment or discrimination cases. And, as the women outline in the concluding paragraph of their letter, they want these changes now:
“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.