Less than 24 hours after a deal was announced, Congress passed legislation to make lawmakers financially liable for sexual harassment settlements and eliminate unnecessary barriers to reporting workplace misconduct on Capitol Hill.
The swift passage of a compromise bill by the House and Senate revealed overwhelming bipartisan support for changing policies on Capitol Hill in response to the #MeToo movement after nearly seven months of negotiations. Last fall, Congress's system for addressing lawmaker misconduct, including employee settlements funded by taxpayers, was criticized as unfairly protective of members of Congress over their aides.
The bill now goes to the White House for President Donald Trump's signature.
Advocates welcomed the bill, which included a handful of inter-chamber splits on areas of disagreement between the House and Senate. Staffers in the upper chamber will have access to a confidential advocate who must be an attorney but cannot provide legal representation, while House staffers will have access to full legal representation, for example.
The Senate approved the measure by unanimous consent before noon.
"It's a bicameral and bipartisan agreement," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "It strengthens protections for victims. It ensures that members of Congress will be held responsible for their own misconduct - not taxpayers."
The House followed at midday, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praising the compromise while saying the House wants further action next year. The vote took place by unanimous consent.
A copy of the final draft text was obtained by The Post.
Bringing a claim of misconduct now involves a preliminary review, optional mediation and a formal hearing unless the accuser wishes to bring a civil action. Under the current system, accusers are subject to mandatory counseling, mediation and "cooling off" periods.
The new bill states that accusers must bring a claim within 180 days of the alleged incident of harassment or retaliation, the two areas of misconduct covered by the legislation.
If the process results in a settlement or award for the accuser, lawmakers are financially liable for the full sum in the first case and at least some of the full sum in the second case.
Payments to the accuser will still come from the Treasury Department. Lawmakers' contributions will be deducted from their paychecks.
The result of claims filed against lawmakers or senior staff will be referred to the respective chamber's ethics committee.
The bill gives accusers the option of requesting paid leave or the ability to work remotely during the proceedings, depending on the circumstances.
Awards and settlements would be publicly reported without identifying the accuser. Prior awards and settlements under the Congressional Accountability Act will also be reported within 30 days of the law's enactment.
The bill implements a regular climate survey of House and Senate offices that will include questions about sexual harassment and other workplace issues. It also extends protections to unpaid staff, including interns.