By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Remember the fall of 2017, when female members of Congress and 1,500 former Capitol Hill aides came forward with horror stories of sexual harassment – including Rep. Jackie Speier’s jaw-dropping account of “victims having their private parts grabbed on the house floor” – and complaints about the establishment’s do-nothing attitude?

The outcry came in the wake of the #MeToo movement’s exposure of abuses by famous figures like Charlie Rose of CBS and NBC’s Matt Lauer.

And while it quickly resulted in the resignation of handsy Sen. Al Franken, among others, there were demands for more change in a hidebound federal system where complaints were discouraged, kept quiet, and settlements were paid using taxpayer dollars.

More than a year later, they’ve finally acted – sort of. The bill:

  • Makes members of Congress pay for settlements of harassment or retaliation claims out of their own pocket;
  • All settlements will now be made public
  • And it removes onerous obstacles to reporting offenses.

But the Senate:

  • Balked at a House proposal to provide legal advisers to alleged victims
  • Doesn’t strengthen workplace harassment training
  • And members still won’t be personally liable for successful discrimination claims

“This was something that we had to get done by the end of the year,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), a co-sponsor of the bill who promises further toughening will be addressed in the new session next year.

In other words, it took us this long to come up with half a loaf. Yet another case study in how – when it comes to significant social changes – it’s the public that leads, and Congress follows.

Jon Keller

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