Collins, Murray press Senate leaders on harassment claims

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Two of the Senate's most senior women sent notice on Thursday that they expect changes to Capitol Hill's practices for dealing with official complaints by congressional staff.

Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington say in a letter to the all-male leadership of the Senate and its powerful Appropriations Committee that aides who complain about sexual harassment shouldn't have to endure "cooling off" periods and mediation.

The women are powerful forces on the Appropriations panel and say steps to improve training on sexual harassment and changes in the manner complaints are handled should be added to upcoming must-pass spending legislation. Murray is the most senior Democratic woman in the Senate and Collins the most senior female Republican.

Collins and Murray say staffers who experience harassment should also have access to "independent confidential resources" to assist them through the complaint process.

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution last month requiring senators and staff to undergo workplace harassment training, a move that Collin and Murray called a "good first step."

Congress has long had a culture that protects members. Current procedures for handling employee complaints of harassment or other mistreatment, for instance, require victims to participate in mandated counseling and mediation and a cooling off period before filing a complaint.

That needs to change, Collins and Murray say, which would require amending the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act.

"When employees do experience harassment, they should have access to independent confidential resources to advise and assist them through the complaint resolution process," Collins and Murray wrote. "That process should be improved so that arbitrary time limits and mandatory processes, such as required 'cooling off' periods, counseling, and mediation, do not discourage reporting."

Congress is expected to enact a catchall "omnibus" spending bill next month that would be a likely vehicle to address the issue.

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