Even as lawmakers and staff work to reconcile legislation passed by the House and Senate to curb sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, a timeline for enacting the bills is unclear, months after they were fast-tracked for floor votes.
“We’re confident we are going to get there at some point. We’re not quite there,” House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi said.
The proposals are not going through the traditional conference committee process, but staff and key players in each chamber are engaged in behind-the-scenes talks.
An aide to California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who worked closely with the House Administration panel on its bill, said staff and lawmakers have been meeting weekly to come to a resolution on the differences between the two bills.
“We’re trying to come up with some further improvement and get to a solution,” the Missouri Republican said Tuesday.
The Senate legislation includes the term “unwelcome harassment” and it defines harassment more narrowly as actions that are “severe or pervasive.” Critics of the Senate measure are concerned the narrow definition could limit what lawmakers are liable for and what victims receive.
On member liability, the specificity of the Senate bill is a departure from language in the House version, which includes a more expansive view of cases under which a member would be personally liable. The Senate text tightens the liability language, making members responsible for all settlements related to their own sexual misconduct but not for other issues such as discrimination. The Senate bill would also cap lawmaker liability at $300,000 and would only hold members liable for “compensatory damages.”
“If we do have bad actors, then the taxpayers should not be responsible for their behavior. We’ll keep working on that,” Harper said.
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Both chambers were moved to action following high-profile resignations over sexual harassment accusations as the #MeToo movement reached Capitol Hill. Those included Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, and Reps. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Trent Franks of Arizona, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Blake Farenthold of Texas and Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania.
Harper says the House bill, as written, would accomplish the primary objective: to change the culture of Capitol Hill.
While the House and Senate proposals are being negotiated, Harper said progress is being made on training against harassment and discrimination. House members, staff and interns are all required to be trained under a resolution adopted in November of last year.
“I am very pleased to say that every member, Republican and Democrat, have all taken that course,” Harper said.