House votes to overhaul system for reporting harassment

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed legislation Tuesday to overhaul how members of Congress and their staffs report sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, a response to reports about the current system’s tangle of confusing guidelines and culture of secrecy.

“From members to staff, no one should feel unsafe serving in Congress,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement following a voice vote.

Capitol Hill has found itself squarely in the center of a national reckoning over sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in the workplace. Since October, eight lawmakers have either resigned or abandoned re-election bids amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Some members and aides have complained about a patchwork system for reporting offenses and secrecy around settlements paid by lawmakers’ office.

Under the new legislation, lawmakers will be required to reimburse the Treasury within 90 days for any harassment settlements made with taxpayer funds, including members who’ve left office; if they don’t, their wages could be garnished.

The legislation also requires that a list of member offices that have reached sexual harassment settlements be published twice a year. Staffers and aides would no longer be required to participate in counseling and mediation before pursuing a harassment claim or filing a federal lawsuit, and will have opportunities to work remotely while their complaints are being investigated. The bill extends protections to interns and fellows.

Advocacy groups called on the Senate to quickly take up the bill, and for both chambers to strengthen laws designed to protect employees outside of Congress against sexual harassment.

“Congress must strengthen our workplace laws so that those days are over and that civil and human rights of all workers are truly protected,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.