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U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, along with 19 others, introduced new bipartisan legislation, "Congressional Harassment Reform Act," on Thursday, making it easier for congressional members, staff, interns and fellows to report and file claims of sexual harassment. 

According to a release, the proposed legislation eliminates forced mediation and ends secrecy by "allowing victims to speak publicly about their case."

If a member of Congress is found personally liable for harassment, they would have to pay their own settlements from personal funds. 

“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” said Sen. Gillibrand in the release. “There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises. ”

This initiative comes just days after Gillibrand and others called for President Donald Trump's immediate resignation, following sexual abuse and harassment allegations by more than 17 women. 

Specifically, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act would do the following:

• Extends protections to interns and fellows.

• Requires everyone working on Capitol Hill, including members, to take the Office of Compliance training.

• Changes the name of the Office of Compliance to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.

• Puts victims in the driver’s seat by allowing them to choose how to resolve their complaint (e.g. counseling and mediation are both no longer mandatory) and protecting their option to discuss their claim publicly.

• Establishes a confidential advisor to consult, on a confidential basis, with any employee who has alleged harassment or discrimination; and assist any employee who has an allegation under Title IV in understanding the procedures, and the significance of the procedures.

• Gives OOC’s General Counsel the authority to conduct interviews and gather evidence regarding complaints of covered harassment and discrimination filed under this section, including interviews with former employees.

• Allows individuals to work remotely without penalty throughout proceedings.

• Improves tracking of complaints and procedures by implementing an online platform.

• Requires that if a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, they will be responsible for the cost of any settlement.

• Requires that if a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the Senate or House Ethics Committee.

• Requires that all settlements will be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private.

• Requires offices to post notices with information about employees’ rights and how to contact the Office of Compliance.

• Provides for a climate survey to identify the pervasiveness of the problem and what gaps continue to exist in its resolution.

Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at kphalen-tomaselli@poststar.com for comments or story ideas. 

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