Ethics Committee urges Congress to pass sexual harassment legislation

In a new letter sent to leaders of the House and Senate, the House Ethics Committee is urging Congress to pass the long-stalled sexual harassment legislation, saying it is “imperative” for Congress to act “quickly.”

“Members and employees alike should be able to work free from sexual harassment or discrimination of any kind,” said the letter sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. “The American public must also have confidence that we in Congress not only view these issues with the seriousness they demand — but that we are taking action.”

The letter, dated Monday, is signed by members of the Ethics Committee including its chairwoman, Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana, and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida.

The legislation would revise the Congressional Accountability Act, which set up and oversees the process for making and handling sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill, and it would hold lawmakers personally liable for paying settlements, rather than using US taxpayer money.

The House passed its version of the legislation in February. The Senate wrote its own bill, a vastly different version, in May.

Since then, aides from the Senate Rules Committee and the House Administration Committee have been meeting to try to iron out the differences in order to create one piece of legislation that could be signed into law.

But there has been little tangible progress, with sticking points over members’ personal liability and the details of investigations, among others.

Negotiators have missed several loose deadlines they set for themselves — the first being to pas it by the end of summer, the second to pass it by the midterm elections. The one-year anniversary of the #metoo wave hitting Capitol Hill going by without a bill being passed has shined a spotlight even more on lawmakers’ inability to reach agreement.

Senate and House negotiators tell CNN that in the past week there has been significant movement on the sticking points. The hope, multiple sources involved in the negotiations say, is that once Congress is back next week from the Thanksgiving break there will some concrete progress toward the new goal of passing legislation by year’s end.

“We’re working on getting that done before the end of the year,” McConnell said last week.

He huddled with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the two chief Senate negotiators on the Rules Committee. Afterward, Klobuchar and Blunt expressed confidence to CNN that they are close to the finish line.

“With the election over there is no reason, in my view, that we can’t find a place where both the House and Senate are comfortable and moving forward, and I think it is important to get this done before the next Congress starts,” Blunt said. “You’ve got a number of new members in both the House and Senate, and before they raise their hand to get sworn in they should know what laws they are agreeing to comply with.”