Following revelations of sexual assault by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and multiple allegations of the same by Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, Congress is facing an extremely negative public image on the issue.
Worse still, new reports have detailed how a 1995 law called the Congressional Accountability Act which was intended to deal with the problem has in reality been little enforced.
Congress has already taken a few measures to deal with the problem internally, and several other bills could provide further reforms. Below is an overview of what’s already been done and what may still be done soon.
Senate passes mandatory training
The Senate Anti-Harassment Training Resolution of 2017 passed by a unanimous consent voice vote, a mere two days after its introduction by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
It will require all senators, all members of their staff, and even all temporary Senate interns to undergo mandatory sexual assault and harassment training within 60 days, to be repeated at least once every two years. All Senate offices would be required to publicly post online when their members have undergone the training on the Secretary of the Senate website.
“Workplace harassment is a widespread problem that affects too many men and women in too many places, professions, and industries. Congress is not immune to this,” Klobuchar said in a press release. “I introduced this bipartisan resolution… to make sexual harassment training mandatory across the Senate and make it clear that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated in Congress.”
Klobuchar’s resolution was introduced on November 9, mere days before her state’s other senator Franken had his own scandal break. And unlike most legislation, this bill dealt only with internal congressional rules and did not require a signature from President Trump — who himself has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault and harassment.
How will this act be enforced, in case a senator refuses to take the training? To be determined. The text of the act itself says, “The Committee on Rules and Administration of the Senate is authorized to issue such regulations or guidance as it may determine necessary to carry out this resolution.”
The bill (labelled S. Res. 330) had attracted 19 cosponsors: 11 Republicans, seven Democrats, and one independent.
House requires mandatory training also
On November 14, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI1) announced that all House members and their staffs will be required to complete mandatory training to prevent sexual harassment.
“Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution,” Ryan said in a statement announcing the change. “As we work with the Administration, Ethics, and Rules committees to implement mandatory training, we will continue our review to make sure the right policies and resources are in place to prevent and report harassment.”
While Ryan’s announcement unilaterally requires the mandatory training soon, it remains unclear whether it would have to be repeated in subsequent Congresses. Some worry that the training would occur once and then be forgotten, despite some lawmakers staying in office as long as several decades.
At least two bills introduced would take the newly-implemented requirement a step further.
ME TOO Act
The Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act would:
- Require annual training on the subjects, in both the Senate and House.
- Discontinue the legal practice of “mandatory mediation,” which usually results in offenders avoiding being charged or punished.
- Give interns and fellows the same workplace protections on the issue as full-time staff. Many reports of sexual harassment are allegedly committed towards interns.
The legislation is named after the #MeToo social media campaign which encouraged women to share their previously-hidden stories of rape, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
“In 1995, Congress created the Office of Congressional Compliance to protect itself from being exposed, and it has been remarkably successful. Twenty years later, 260 settlements and more than $15 million have permanently silenced victims of all types of workplace discrimination,” House lead sponsor Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA14) said in a press release. “Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability.
The bill (labelled H.R. 4396) has attracted five House cosponsors, three Republicans and two Democrats, and awaits a vote in the House Administration Committee. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as S. 2159 and has attracted three Democratic cosponsors.
Congressional Sexual Harassment Training Act
The Congressional Sexual Harassment Training Act would require training every two years. While that’s less frequent than the aforementioned ME TOO Act which would require training every year, it would still be once per congressional session.
But this bill has far, far more cosponsors: exactly 100: 93 Democrats and seven Republicans.
“As a former human resources manager and certified Equal Employment Opportunity investigator for a federal agency, I care deeply about preventing and responding to sexual harassment in federal workplaces,” House lead sponsor Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI14) said in a press release. “I believe it is unconscionable that every congressional office is not required to participate in this simple training solution that is already available.”
Labelled H.R. 4155, it awaits a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.