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One year after sexual harassment reforms, lawmakers seek to broaden protections on Capitol Hill

Advocates who helped spur changes in Congress after #metoo movement look to expand discrimination protections.

WASHINGTON — One year after the enactment of major reforms addressing sexual harassment in Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced new legislation to address provisions left out of the 2018 law.

The new proposal would seek to make members of Congress personally liable for settlements of claims for discrimination against them, something that was stripped from the original measure after months of tense negotiations and objections by the Senate last year.

“I think men and women who serve as staff or as interns and fellows in the House or Senate should be safe, and they should not be preyed on by persons in power,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who co-authored the legislation, told NBC News about the new proposed bill. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that there’s a safe environment for people to work.

The Congressional Accountability Act Reform Act passed Congress last year after the #metoo movement and a series of allegations rocked Capitol Hill and led lawmakers to address problems caused by a culture of sexual harassment and a complaint system stacked against the victim.

The 2018 law rewrote the process so that members of Congress, not taxpayers, were made personally liable for paying out settlements when found guilty of sexual harassment.

But advocates of the new legislation said that while those changes represented a significant advancement to repair the culture on Capitol Hill, there is more to do. Speier said that racial, gender and religious discrimination is “as offensive, if not more so” than sexual harassment.

“It should be something that we not only reject but hold (the accused) accountable by having members pay for any settlement that results from discrimination,” Speier said.

The measure also goes further than the 2018 law by ensuring that when a complaint is filed, an investigator opens a fact-finding investigation rather than just the preliminary review that is now required.

Advocates say the new measure holds Congress to the same standards as the private sector.

“Congress must lead by example to ensure that workplaces are safe from harassment and discrimination for all congressional employees,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said.

The law currently mandates that all lawmakers, employees, interns and fellows take sexual harassment training and all new settlements be made public. It also provides a legal advocate for a victim who files a complaint.

The measure is expected to be taken up in the House in the new year, but there is little expectation that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would bring it up in the Senate, should it pass the House.