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Congress strikes deal on sexual harassment bill

Posted at 4:05 PM, Dec 12, 2018

House and Senate negotiators have struck a deal over long-stalled legislation to revamp the way sexual harassment complaints are made and handled on Capitol Hill, multiple congressional sources close to the process told CNN on Wednesday, likely assuring the bill's final passage this year.

The bill will reconcile the House- and Senate-passed versions into one bill that overhauls the Congressional Accountability Act, which set up and oversees how sexual harassment claims are handled and -- for the first time -- will hold lawmakers liable for paying harassment settlements from their own pockets, rather than using US taxpayer money as had been done in the past.

The breakthrough comes more than a year since the #metoo wave hit Capitol Hill and just in the nick of time. Had Congress been unable to reach agreement before the end of the year, each chamber's legislation that passed earlier in the year would have expired.

The House passed its version in February. The Senate wrote its own bill, a vastly different version, in May and legislators have been working for the past seven months, in fits and starts, to compromise over the details.

The final bill text has not been released yet and a formal announcement is forthcoming. Depending on how things pan out with the whole slate of must-pass items left on Congress' docket, the sexual harassment legislation could be attached to the spending bill or the Violence Against Women's Act extension or could be passed by unanimous consent on the floor.

Whether lawmakers would be personally liable for paying harassment settlements had been a sticking point as the legislation sat for months without a solution. A provision in the Senate's bill for members being to be held personally responsible said, unlike the House bill, that they must pay out of pocket only for sexual harassment, not for any awards that may be ordered for sex discrimination or any other kind of discrimination.

Some had feared that could provide a loophole for members who are accused of harassment to settle with a victim for sex discrimination, knowing they won't be required to pay the settlement and it will instead come out of a US Treasury fund.