Lawmakers Push for Sexual Harassment Bill in Spending Package

Bipartisan coalition, Speaker want legislation included in omnibus

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc., left, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., arrive to hold a press conference following the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans and Democrats are making a last-minute bid to add legislation that would address the sexual harassment of staffers by members of Congress on the omnibus appropriations bill.

With dozens of policy issues still in flux as part of the full-year fiscal 2018 spending package, some lawmakers are upset by indications a bill that would implement robust sexual harassment policies in Congress is currently not part of the omnibus. The House passed the anti-sexual harassment measure, as well as sweeping rules changes aimed at protecting staffers, by voice vote on Feb. 6.

“We’re trying to put the harassment bill we passed out of the House or some portion of it” on the omnibus, Rep. Bradley Byrne said, “and I think that’s been taken out, which I’m not happy about.

“I want to see it in because I want to see it passed, but the last bit of news that I got was that it’s out,” said the Alabama Republican, who is part of the bipartisan coalition making the push.

Watch: Paul Ryan Leadership Press Conference

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who is also a cosponsor of those measures with Byrne, said on CNN Tuesday morning the issue was still unresolved.

“It’s not definitively out,” she said.

The House rules changes, which only affect that chamber, took effect immediately upon House passage. House employees who pursue complaints regarding sexual harassment or other discrimination now receive legal support through a newly created Office of Employee Advocacy. Members must certify that employee payroll funds are not being used to pay any settlements or rewards in connection to prohibited behavior.

The bill lawmakers want in the spending package would make changes to the process for reporting complaints of harassment and discrimination. Required counseling and mediation periods would be made optional and investigations would be conducted by the general counsel of the new Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.

“We think the bill that we passed is the right bill,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday., as he declined to say whether he supports revealing the names of lawmakers who have used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims.

“We had a bipartisan bill that the House passed that was led by Jackie Speier, by Bradley Byrne, by Barbara Comstock. We like that bill. We think that’s the bill that should become law,” Ryan said, adding “it was a carefully crafted compromise and we think it’s the right way to go.”

House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., was holding out hope on Monday night that anti-sexual harassment language would be included in the omnibus.

“I’m not giving up on it yet. Until we see the language that gets dropped, I’m still cautiously optimistic that we’ll get something in the omni,” Harper said. “Will it be exactly like we had? Probably not. But will be close enough to accept? I’m hopeful.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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