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  • Washington Highlights

    House of Representatives Passes Sexual Harassment Legislation

    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    The House of Representatives July 23 passed by voice vote the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 (H.R. 36). The bill, introduced Jan. 3, would establish an interagency working group led by the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with representatives from each federal science agency with an extramural research expenditure over $1 billion and the Department of Education [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 11].

    During floor debate on final passage of H.R. 36, original co-sponsor Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) rose in support of the bill. She stated that federal science agencies “have the responsibility to ensure that all federally-funded researchers, including students, are able to carry out their research in a safe environment” without fear of sexual harassment. Rep. Johnson added that “agencies need universities to be partners in that area and effort.”

    Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), also an original co-sponsor, shared his support by summarizing the bill’s role in “creat[ing] a uniform policy for universities and research institutions to report to federal science agencies when administrative action is taken that impacts the ability of a researcher to carry out a grant.” Rep. Lucas concluded that “pervasive sexual harassment in the scientific community discourages women from critical work in good-paying jobs and hurts American competitiveness.”

    The House Science Committee June 20 marked up H.R. 36, incorporating minor changes to the bill in advance of consideration on the House floor. Specifically, adopted amendments: added new definitions; included the Department of Education as a member of the interagency working group tasked with coordinating efforts to “reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment involving grant personnel;” and made modifications to the requirements and considerations the OSTP director should consult when developing policy guidelines for science agencies.

    With House passage of the bill, the measure must be approved by the Senate before receiving the President’s signature to become law. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) April 8 introduced the companion bill to H.R. 36 in the Senate (S. 1067), which has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for further consideration.