It took a long time—and it’s still not over.
The Senate finally passed a new bill addressing Congress’ sexual harassment policy Thursday, three months after the House passed its own bill.
While the latest version of the bill, introduced by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), passed unanimously in the Senate, it will now go back to the House—where it is likely to face criticism for being too weak.
The two bills have a number of similarities: they both require that the accused lawmaker take personal financial responsibility for any sexual harassment settlement; they both eliminate the counseling and ‘cooling off period’ that are currently mandatory for accusers; and they both provide victim protections to unpaid staff like interns.
Nevertheless, there are several major differences in the Senate bill. The instances in which settlements must be paid by a lawmaker are much more limited. This includes in instances of sexual harassment, but not for other forms of discrimination. The bill also narrows the definition of harassment, which some have argued could make it more difficult for an accuser to claim sexual harassment, as the action could be deemed discrimination instead. In these instances, the settlement payment would could from a U.S. Treasury Fund.
The Senate bill also provides the accuser with “confidential advisors” rather than employer-provided legal counsel, and these advisors are not permitted to offer the accuser legal advice. Finally, the Senate bill gives the Ethics Committee the authority to review the case, allowing the chair and ranking member to overrule settlement repayments. The House bill stipulates the creation of a third-part investigatory process instead.
The House now has two options: it can either pass the Senate’s bill as is, or the House and Senate can seek to reconcile the differences in a conference committee. If that bill includes any changes, it will have to be voted on by both the House and Senate again.