After the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein blockbuster sparked a reckoning about sexual harassment and power across the country, members of Congress faced their own set of allegations, leading to the resignations of male lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Before the dust began to settle, women representatives began to work on legislation that would address Congress' archaic system for dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
In the midst of the #MeToo movement and the midterm elections, the bipartisan legislation should have been the easiest to pass this year. But ten months after the House unanimously passed its bill and seven months after the Senate voted on its own version, both chambers have been unable to agree on a final piece of legislation to vote on. The impasse comes down to how the House bill includes tougher sanctions for the alleged abusers and demands more transparency, while the Senate takes a weaker approach that puts lawmakers' well-being ahead of staffers who allege sexual harassment.
The current complaint system sets the scenario for the accusers to be extremely vulnerable. Those who bring accusations against lawmakers are required to spend months in mediation and counseling before they are able to file an official complaint. The parties involved are also required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which makes it nearly impossible for constituents to know about the allegations against their elected officials. If the accuser still goes ahead with a complaint, they would have to file it in court or ask for an administrative hearing. Lawmakers are also allowed to use taxpayer money to settle these cases, which former representatives such as Republican Blake Farenthold and Democrat John Conyers took advantage of.
According to HuffPo, there are three areas where both chambers can't come to an agreement. The House bill holds lawmakers financially responsible for settlements, requires legal representation is provided to those who come forward, and calls for an investigation into the allegations at the beginning of the complaint process, instead of putting accusers through months of mediation. Meanwhile, the Senate bill would allow lawmakers to continue using taxpayer money to settle cases and cuts both the legal representation and investigation requirements.
If both chambers are unable to come to an agreement soon, the legislation will have to be re-introduced and voted on again when the next Congress starts. Or it will just fade away from memory, leaving staffers as vulnerable to sexual harassment as ever. Passing this type of legislation should have been a slam dunk for everyone involved, and yet, once again D.C. shows the reason why progress often stalls in the U.S. is because our elected officials refuse to take a stand. Society is changing the way it views sexual harassment. It's time Congress does too.