Women's groups and other advocacy organizations joined House members in blasting a Senate sexual harassment deal slated for passage Thursday, knocking the bill as too easy on lawmakers who are accused of inappropriate workplace behavior.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the American Civil Liberties Union, Equal Pay Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center and Public Citizen argued that the bill “contains numerous provisions that are contrary to key principles we’ve previously articulated, falls short of an acceptable compromise, and may have unintended negative consequences.”
“Given the scope and breadth of the bill and significant differences between this and the House-passed bill, we are deeply concerned that neither senators nor key stakeholders have been given adequate time to fully vet the bill,” the groups wrote, urging the Senate to fix what they view as mistakes.
The letter came just hours before the Senate was slated to vote on a compromise to overhaul Capitol Hill’s decades-old harassment system, which allowed lawmakers to use taxpayer money for payouts and required victims to wait months in a "cooling off" period before filing complaints.
While the House version of the bill has received praise, critics say the Senate version significantly waters down member accountability.
One of the biggest flash-points in the bill, for example, is the Senate’s requirement that the slow-moving ethics panels in both chambers review and approve all settlements when a member is the perpetrator. That essentially leaves it up to lawmakers to decide the fate of their colleagues and whether they engaged in harassment — not an independent investigator.
“This provision appears to provide an opportunity for a Member who has settled a claim to avoid personal accountability and to be absolved from reimbursing the taxpayers,” the groups wrote in the letter.
Even the House Ethics Committee criticized the proposal in a rare Thursday press release on legislation.
The groups also wrote that the Senate bill undermines the House bill’s designation of legal counsel for victims. It also blasted the bill for only holding members liable for certain types of damages and not making them cover discrimination settlement payouts, which often comprise the bulk of harassment claims.
“A Member who has committed wrongdoing should be liable for all damages negotiated in a settlement or awarded by a court; they should not be shielded from the consequences of their actions,” they wrote.