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Senate passes long-stalled bill to address sexual harassment on Capitol Hill

Posted at 2:16 PM, May 24, 2018

The Senate has passed its long-stalled legislation that would overhaul how sexual harassment complaints are made and handled on Capitol Hill and would hold members of Congress personally responsible for paying such settlements out of their own pockets.

The legislation moved forward following a deal reached by Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and praised by leaders of both parties in the Senate.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which passed its version in February and where the expectation is that there will be a conference committee to work out the differences between the two bills after Congress returns from its weeklong Memorial Day recess.

The differences between the House's and Senate's versions of the legislation include the language used in describing when a member would be required to pay for settlements -- and when they would not -- and the reporting of settlements.

California Republican Rep. Jackie Speier, one of the chief negotiators of the House's bill said that there is "disappointment" in Senate's bill among some members on both sides of the aisle in the House.

"We will go to conference and hopefully we can iron out some of those differences," Speier said Thursday on CNN's "New Day."

There also is criticism of the Senate's bill among some outside advocacy groups, which have written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Chuck Schumer expressing concern that the House bill became essentially too watered down in the Senate's negotiations.

"This bill contains numerous provisions that are contrary to key principles we've previously articulated, falls short of an acceptable compromise, and may have unintended negative consequences," says a letter sent to Senate leaders signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Equal Pay Today, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights National Women's Law Center and Public Citizen.

Additionally, these groups say they see "significant differences" between the House and Senate bills and are "deeply concerned" that "neither senators nor key stakeholders have been given adequate time to fully vet the bill."

Congressional sources tell CNN there are numerous areas that the discussion will center on when the two sides meet to work out a compromise.

Among the chief areas of concern: The provision for members being held personally responsible in the Senate bill states that they have to pay out of pocket only for sexual harassment, not for any awards that may be ordered for sex discrimination or any other kind of discrimination. Some fear that could provide a loophole for members who are accused of harassment to settle with a victim for sex discrimination, knowing that they won't be required to pay the settlement and it will instead come out of a US Treasury fund.

Additionally, there is concern that in the Senate's legislation would empower and involve the Ethics Committee more so than the House's. The Senate version would give the chair and ranking member of the committee the authority to overrule settlement repayments. The House bill would create a third-party investigatory process instead.