By Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would step up protections for congressional staffers facing workplace harassment, including requiring lawmakers to use their personal funds to cover the cost of settlements if they were the alleged harassers.
The bipartisan legislation, which had more than 40 co-sponsors in the 100-seat Senate, would also make public the harassment settlements and the lawmakers involved, automatically refer such settlements to the Senate Ethics Committee and more closely track allegations of harassment within the U.S. Capitol.
"Hardworking taxpayers should not foot the bill for a member's misconduct, and victims should not have to navigate a system that stands in the way of accountability," Republican Senator Roy Blunt said in a statement with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar said the bill would "help bring accountability and transparency to a broken process, ensure victims can immediately seek justice, and hold members of Congress accountable."
The measure would update employee protections enacted in 1995. The House of Representatives passed its own version of the legislation in February. The two chambers need to reconcile the differences between the two bills before the measure can be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The push to pass legislation to protect congressional employees follows allegations of sexual harassment against dozens of high-profile men in politics, media, entertainment and business. Both the House and Senate bills would require lawmakers to use their own money to cover the cost of settling such matters.
Currently, there is a congressional fund that pays for harassment settlements, including those involving the conduct of House and Senate lawmakers.
Republican Representatives Blake Farenthold and Patrick Meehan are among those who have resigned from Congress because of allegations of sexual harassment. Both said they would repay the U.S. Treasury for the congressional funds used for the settlements. Farenthold has since said he will not do so.
The House Ethics Committee released a statement on Thursday reiterating it does not have jurisdiction over House members once they resign. The committee urged Congress to pass legislation that would ensure lawmakers are personally liable for their conduct, even after they leave office.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Peter Cooney)