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Dec. 6, 2017

Congress should lead in workplace fairness

The outcry for accountability that we are hearing from all corners of the country must be heeded.

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By Jackie Speier
I am proud to support H.Res.630 to require sexual harassment training. I've been working for this since 2014, and I am happy that the House is finally taking this important first step. I will continue to work to ensure that the training conforms to best practices --in-person, interactive, specific to the Congressional workplace, and taken seriously.

Today's bill is an important step in the right direction, but let's not fool ourselves -- it is a baby step. Let us not, to paraphrase Shakespeare, tread the primrose path while leaving survivors to struggle the steep and thorny way to justice. We are the elected representatives of the American people and we must not hesitate to do what is needed to fix this broken system.

All too often, Members of Congress -- and staff, too -- have had a sense of power, where they think they can do whatever they want to anyone, and no one will hold them accountable. How else can you explain a member grinding against a staff member on the House floor, while sticking his tongue into her ear, without any consequence whatsoever? If some Members are conducting themselves this way in the House chamber, I cannot imagine how they must act in private.

Unfortunately, due to the system Congress has created to protect itself from being exposed, there has been no accountability. It is now clear that this misguided attempt to protect the institution is instead harming it and leaving victims in its wake.

We work in a very special place -- a trusted place. But let me be very clear, we ourselves are not special. The outcry for accountability that we are hearing from all corners of the country must be heeded. We are seeing titans of entertainment, news, and every other business be swiftly terminated, yet here in Congress we hide behind due process niceties when in reality we have constructed a structure that shields us from true accountability.

Did Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer receive months and years of "due process" before being terminated? When do we simply believe the victims and provide them a fair and safe process to report and get justice? Is one occurrence worthy of expulsion? Two? Three?

We don't like to come down on our friends and colleagues. I get that. But don't we have a moral responsibility to the victims, to society at large? When a CEO of a major company is fired, the Board of Directors doesn't say "let's wait and have the shareholders decide."

Well, colleagues, our Board of Directors are the American people, and they are loud and clear. They do not want us to hide behind opaque decisions by the House Administration or Ethics Committees. They do not want to pay for our inability to keep our hands to ourselves. They want accountability and transparency and they want it now.

I urge support for this bill, but I also call on (my colleagues) to join me in taking Congress from a cruel and disgusting joke to a leader in workplace fairness. I know we can be better than this, the American people know we can be better than this, and we must rise to their challenge.

Jackie Speier is the U.S. Representative for California's 14th congressional district. Her remarks were delivered last week on the House floor.

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