After 100 days, Gillibrand ramps up push for Senate to take up sexual harassment bill

Making members financially responsible for settlements is sticking point on House-passed bill.
by Leigh Ann Caldwell /  / Updated 

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WASHINGTON — Months after a wave of allegations of sexual harassment swept through Capitol Hill and took out more than half a dozen lawmakers, the Senate has yet to move forward on legislation to reform the outdated reporting system. And at least one member is ramping up her calls for a vote.

The House passed their version of reforms in February but in the Senate things have been moving slowly.

A group of four senators, the Democratic and Republican leaders and the top two members of the Senate Rules Committee, have been negotiating the legislation but haven’t yet come to a final agreement.

“I think we’re almost totally in agreement and hopefully we still will be when we get (bill) language,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., one of the four negotiators said.

But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is getting impatient.

"We need to create enough political will by this chamber to get an up or down vote," Gillibrand said In an interview for MSNBC's "Kasie DC."

She has been highlighting the Senate's inaction daily for the past ten days.

“Practically every other industry in the country seems to be taking this issue far more seriously and at least trying to make an effort to change their workplaces, Congress is dragging its feet,” Gillibrand said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “Enough is enough, we should do better. We've waited 100 days and we should not have to wait any longer.”

Gillibrand filed a procedural motion on Thursday morning, known as Rule 14, which places her legislation, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, which has 32 co-sponsors, on the Senate calendar. But because McConnell controls the floor, her action doesn’t mean that her bill will necessarily get a vote.

"There is a bipartisan effort underway that includes both Senate Leaders," Don Stewart, spokesman to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said of Gillibrand's complaints.

A sticking point has been a provision that would make lawmakers be personally financially responsible for settlement payments. Currently, taxpayers are on the hook for settlements.

Gillibrand has made sexual harassment a top priority. She took the lead on legislation to prevent and provide accountability for sexual assault in the military. She was the first senator to call on her colleague Sen. Al Franken to resign after a woman, Leeann Tweeden, said Franken inappropriately touched and kissed her during a USO-sponsored comedy tour in Kabul in 2006, before he was a senator.

The House passed major reforms to their reporting process in February, which was an effort to overhaul a secret and excessively complicated system put in place in 1996 under the Congressional Accountability Act.

In addition to making the individual members responsible for settlements, the bill would also provide legal representation for the victim once a complaint has been filed, similar to the legal representation the accused already receives.

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