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Senate passes bill to change how Congress deals with sexual harassment claims

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and colleague Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced a bill to reform the workplace harassment process in Congress on May 23. (Video: Jordan Frasier/The Washington Post)

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would change the way Congress deals with sexual harassment claims, another sign that the MeToo movement that has swept across numerous industries is also having an impact on Capitol Hill workplaces.

The bill would end a mandatory 90-day waiting period and allow individuals to seek a hearing or civil action on their claim immediately. It would also require members of Congress to reimburse the government for monetary settlements resulting from harassment by them.

The legislation, which also covers other claims of workplace discrimination, passed by voice vote, meaning no senators objected to it. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced it.

“The world is changing, and the Senate needs to change with it, and I would argue the Senate should be in the lead,” Klobuchar said in a speech on the Senate floor.

“This bipartisan agreement sends a clear message that harassment in any form will not be tolerated in the U.S. Congress,” Blunt said in a statement.

Seven members of the House and one senator — four Republicans and four Democrats — were forced into resignation or announced their intention to retire at the end of the year after revelations about sexual misconduct.

The House Ethics Committee said Thursday that Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Meehan, who resigned in April after reports he had paid a secret settlement to a staffer who accused him of harassment, has followed through on his pledge to repay the government $39,000 for the settlement.

The Senate bill would mandate public reporting of settlements, including identifying whether a member of Congress is liable. It would also offer protections under the Congressional Accountability Act to unpaid staff, such as interns, fellows and government agency employees on loan to Congress.

The House passed similar legislation in February — also by voice vote.

Before a bill can be sent to President Trump’s desk, it must clear both chambers of Congress. That means the House must take up the Senate version (or vice versa), or lawmakers must work out a compromise bill.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.