After almost a year of discussion on the matter, the House and Senate were able to reach an agreement on how to approach the issue of sexual harassment in the government body. The legislation got approved last year in December 2018, and is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump, who has himself been accused of sexual misconduct in the past.
The bill has made amendments in the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The new reform has brought major improvements to the process of reporting allegations of sexual abuse for federal workers. In addition, it now holds lawmakers financially liable in person for any kind of harassment settlements, and all the settlements for sexual allegations that lawmakers pay up for has improved transparency.
In early 2018, a lot of progress was made toward this legislation; however towards the end of the year, it was delayed for months, which made its fate quite uncertain. Almost a year after Congress was faced with multiple allegations of sexual harassment that had led many members from both the Democratic and Republican parties to resign, was the sexual harassment bill passed.
This law signifies an important step that Congress has taken to acknowledge the problem of harassment and the imbalance of power which exists between lawmakers and employees. However, this is only the first step, and there is much work that remains to be done.
The final form of the bill was reached at after months of long debates between the House and the Senate, who were in strong disagreement on how to deal with a series of legal acts that would promote protection for victims.
The final version of the bill passed by both chambers is labeled as the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act. Some of the significant provisions include elimination of the three month long waiting period, which required the victim to go through counseling and meditation before formally filing a lawsuit. The law has removed any delays in the complaint process, and made counseling and mediation optional.
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Now lawmakers are required to be financially liable themselves, if they pay up for settlements for sexual misconducts or retaliation. It would be made sure that these costs are covered personally by lawmakers and if needed would be recovered from their wages if the funds aren’t reimbursed within 90 days after the agreement is settled.
All settlements made either in the House or the Senate in relation to harassment or retaliation would be presented in detail in an annual report. It would include the name of the member’s office and if the member was involved, the form of violation and the amount of the settlement.
The new bill also includes protection for interns which wasn’t a part of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
Although it doesn’t cover everything, it was still a significant update made to the sexual harassment law that previously was more in favor of the harasser than the victim. Much credit has been given to the #MeToo movement and the changing office culture, which allowed for this bill to have been passed.