In May, the Senate passed legislation that would bring much-needed reform to the way sexual harassment cases against lawmakers are handled on Capitol Hill, which is currently awaiting a vote from the House of Representatives. There’s just one problem—the House passed its own version of sexual harassment reform in February, and believes its proposed legislation is better. Ah yes, classic mix-up.
NBC News reports that Congress is “deadlocked” on this matter and that “time is running short” to pass any sort of bill before the House’s August recess—which is still fully on, despite calls from certain members to stay put and do more work.
According to NBC, members of the House view their bill, which amends long-standing legislation concerning congressional accountability, as more robust. Critics of the Senate bill call its definition of sexual harassment too narrow, which could make it harder for victims to successfully launch a claim against lawmakers and risk missing out on financial settlements. From NBC:
While both bills require a lawmaker who enters into a settlement over sexual harassment accusations to be financially responsible for payments, the Senate bill is much more limited in scope.
In the Senate bill, a lawmaker must pay only in instances of sexual harassment and not for other forms of discrimination against a subordinate. It also narrows the definition of harassment, leading critics to say these two actions create a loophole that could make it more difficult to reach a sexual harassment claim because the wrongdoing can be categorized as discrimination.
While the Senate’s bill may be far from perfect, the House seems to be forgetting that its own measures to hold wrongdoing lawmakers accountable received a fair share of criticism in February; activists argued that the House bill would take away power from the independent entity established to investigate Congress for misconduct, and hand over the accountability process to a committee within the House, which—rightfully so—critics say could be a huge conflict of interest. From CNN (emphasis mine):
The [House] bill would freeze out the Office of Congressional Ethics, specifically saying it cannot investigate any claim filed with the Office of Compliance, and leaves it to the House Ethics Committee, which has a mixed track record of sanctioning lawmakers and very little in the way of public disclosure requirements, to decide whether a lawmaker violated House rules.
If nothing gets done before the House breaks in August, are they worried? Not at all. There’s always September, Rep. Harper, the guy who sponsored the House bill, told NBC News.
“I don’t think we’re at an impasse yet,” Harper said. “We’ll come back in September—we’ll see where we are.”