Prominent Republican senators on Thursday embraced a push to overhaul rules for addressing sexual harassment in the U.S. Congress, signing on to a bill that would protect victims and require lawmakers to pay for their own settlements.
The legislation builds on demands to lift the veil of secrecy around sexual harassment and misconduct on Capitol Hill, and has gained momentum in recent months as a wave of women have come forward with accusations against prominent American men in politics, media and entertainment.
The bipartisan push signaled momentum in the Republican-led U.S. Congress for overhauling a process for handling misconduct allegations that many lawmakers say is antiquated and stacked against victims.
The bill, called the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, draws from proposals that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Jackie Speier, both Democrats, have been developing.
High-profile Republican senators co-sponsoring the bill include John Cornyn, the Senate's No. 2 Republican; Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst and Lisa Murkowski.
The legislation would require any member of Congress found liable for harassment to pay settlements themselves, rather than with taxpayer funds, as the current process allows.
"Congress is not above the laws, and secret settlements with taxpayer money to cover up harassment should no longer be tolerated," Cruz said in a statement.
Settlements would be made public automatically unless victims choose to keep them private.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Caren Bohan; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Caren Bohan and David Gregorio)