Congress slowly working behind the scenes to reconcile 2 bills on sexual harassment
(CNN) — Earlier this year both chambers of Congress passed their own legislation to overhaul how Capitol Hill handles sexual harassment and negotiators are working behind the scenes this summer to reconcile the two considerably different bills.
A formal conference committee to create one bill that can be signed into law is not necessary at this point and likely will not be formed, congressional sources told CNN before the July 4th recess.
“As it stands right now, we are not going to name conferees,” one of the negotiators working to hash out the differences between the bills told CNN.
Four congressional sources involved in the negotiations — from the House and Senate and from both sides working on this issue — told CNN that private negotiations between the two chambers have been moving ahead without having to establish the more formal panel.
“We are making a lot of progress,” a congressional aide involved in the discussions told CNN. “The motivation to get this done is a real good thing, and I think that is what is helping negotiations move along so quickly.”
In the wake of the #metoo movement last fall, Congress has been grappling with how to rewrite the Congressional Accountability Act, which oversees how claims of sexual harassment are made and handled on Capitol Hill.
The House passed its version of the legislation in February. The Senate passed its own, different version in May. It was expected then that a conference committee would be set up and conferees would be named to work out the differences between the bills.
But over the past month, staff members from the Senate Rules Committee and the House Administration Committee have met a handful of times, and have been making steady progress at that level. The members will likely get involved in the final stages.
Many of those working on the issue say they are fine without a formal conference committee, as long as progress keeps up in working toward a bill that can be signed into law.
“If we can resolve this without going to conference, that is fine with me,” Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, one of the leaders on this issue in the House, told CNN in an interview, “I just don’t know if that is the case. There are some elements in the Senate version that are not adequate.”
There are considerable differences between the two bills.
Among the chief areas of concern that still have to be ironed out: A provision in the Senate bill for members being held personally responsible says, 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 fear 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.
Additionally, there is concern that the Senate’s legislation would empower and involve the Ethics Committee more so than the House’s. The House bill would create a third-party investigatory process instead.
Lawmakers working on this issue say they would like to reach a conclusion and have a bill passed into law potentially by the end of the summer. But others say that timeline might be a little too ambitious, despite what both sides say is progress being made.
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