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US Senate passes bill to address Capitol Hill sexual harassment

A file photo of the US Capitol (By AFP)

The US Senate has unanimously passed legislation that overhauls sexual harassment system on Capitol Hill by stepping up protections for congressional employees facing inappropriate workplace behavior.

Approved by voice vote on Thursday, the bipartisan legislation eliminated mandatory waiting periods for handling sexual harassment complaints and required lawmakers to use their personal funds to cover the cost of settlements if they were the alleged harassers.

The bill would make public the harassment settlements and the lawmakers involved, also providing the accuser with “confidential advisors” rather than employer-provided legal counsel.Items

“Hardworking taxpayers should not foot the bill for a member’s misconduct, and victims should not have to navigate a system that stands in the way of accountability,” Republican Senator Roy Blunt said in a statement with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar said that “we are completely overhauling the sexual harassment policies of the Congress,” as the Senate’s workplace misconduct bill would “help bring accountability and transparency to a broken process, ensure victims can immediately seek justice, and hold members of Congress accountable.”

In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also praised the “impressive proposal.”

“This is an important and meaningful reform, and the result of a broad bipartisan consensus that we should do more to hold people accountable, protect staff and help prevent harassment in the first place,” they said.

The bipartisan bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which passed its own version of the legislation in February.  The two chambers need to reconcile the differences between the two bills in a conference committee before the measure can be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The US Congress has so far failed to enact laws to make it easier for congressional staffers to report sexual or other forms of misconduct by powerful members of Congress and their top aides.

The push to pass legislation to protect congressional staffers follows allegations of sexual harassment against dozens of high-profile men in politics, media, entertainment and business.

Several US lawmakers have either stepped down or not sought re-election over sexual harassment accusations over the past year.

The wave of sexual scandals began when Harvey Weinstein, a leading Hollywood producer, was hit with allegations of sexual harassment, assault or rape.

Women in the US and UK have recently been coming forward to share encounters of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, including in the media and entertainment industries and the realm of politics.

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