Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Tuesday proposed new bipartisan legislation to immediately require sexual harassment training for senators as well as aides and update the training to better reflect the experiences of victims.
The measure from Grassley, who crafted the 1995 law that first set workplace conduct standards for Capitol Hill, comes as female lawmakers and aides — both current and former — come forward to share stories of sexual harassment they experienced on the job.
The bipartisan Senate proposal released Tuesday would require lawmakers and aides to undergo training within 60 days after the Senate Rules Committee issues instructions. Among Grassley's cosponsors are the Rules panel's top Democrat, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is writing her own legislation strengthening the Hill's harassment-policing system.
"I believe each of you works hard to ensure that your offices are professional, free of harassment, and places where merit’s rewarded," Grassley told colleagues in remarks prepared for his measure's introduction.
"But I think we have to acknowledge that in our society, despite our best efforts and intentions, sexual harassment remains a serious problem. And we must work together to make sure that the Senate remains free from harassment."
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are also cosponsors of the proposal, which calls for a review of and update to the current sexual harassment training programs.
Changes should touch on "practical examples aimed at instructing supervisors" about how to prevent workplace misconduct, "a discussion of the consequences for perpetrators," and a reminder of the legal penalties for retaliation against victims who allege harassment on the job, according to an advance copy of the legislation obtained by POLITICO.
The bill states that those updates to the Senate's training program, administered by the Office of Compliance and Office of the Chief Counsel for Employment, should include input from "entities having significant expertise in identifying, preventing, and responding to sexual harassment" as well as victims of harassment and victims' advocates.
"Every office should receive the same training so the Senate maintains a culture in which harassment is not tolerated," Grassley said in his prepared remarks. "This is a common interest we all share. The voters who sent us here expect the best."
The Senate bill also would institute a confidential survey to gauge the extent of lawmakers' and employees' experience with harassment in the workplace.
Congresswoman tolerated abusive behavior by top aide, female ex-staffers say
By RACHAEL BADE
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), the author of a House plan to require harassment training, suspended her top aide Tuesday after POLITICO reported on complaints raised about him by fellow employees in her office.
As such legislation draws further interest on both sides of the aisle, more than 400 former congressional aides in both parties on Tuesday have already added their names to an open letter that asks GOP and Democratic leadership for a broader reform of the current system for handling harassment claims on the Hill. Current rules require any congressional employee alleging harassment to undergo counseling and mediation before filing a complaint, a process that can stretch out for three months.
"We believe that Congress’s policies for preventing sexual harassment and adjudicating complaints of harassment are inadequate and need reform," the former aides wrote.
The letter's organizers are Travis Moore, a former legislative director for retired Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) who founded the nonprofit TechCongress, and Kristin Nicholson, a former chief of staff to Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.).
Moore said in an interview that the effort was partly inspired by the "very brave" video released last month by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a longtime proponent of mandatory sexual harassment training and a stronger system for handling complaints, in which Speier relayed her own story of being forcibly kissed while serving as a congressional aide.
"Former staff can speak out on this in a way that current staff really can't" given the risk that calls for reform could unfairly reflect on their current employers, Moore said — recalling that while he worked on the Hill, female friends would often share "rumblings about members of Congress in elevators saying inappropriate things."