The bipartisan bill introduced Thursday would also eliminate a requirement that employees undergo counseling before lodging a claim
Predators in Congress may soon be forced to pony up.
A bipartisan bill introduced Thursday aims to end the use of taxpayer money for Congress members’ sexual harassment settlements, revamp the convoluted process by which such complaints are handled and boost transparency, the House Administration Committee announced.
The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act would hold members personally accountable for paying out settlement cash — it’s currently paid through a special Treasury Department fund — and reform the Office of Compliance, the congressional body that addresses harassment complaints. The bill would also eliminate the OOC’s much-criticized requirement that employees undergo months-long counseling and mediation before lodging a claim.
Moreover, the OOC would be required to report and publish relevant details online every six months — including settlement amounts, employing offices, claims and whether the Congress member had personally reimbursed the Treasury fund — and administer a “climate survey” every two years to measure employees’ attitudes on workplace sexual harassment.
“This past fall, we pledged to enhance the workplace safety of Congress, and today’s bipartisan legislation brings us one step closer to fulfilling that promise,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “Crafted after multiple hearings on this serious matter, this bill contains major reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act. It ensures that victims of workplace harassment have the resources they need to get the justice they deserve.”
Ryan gave props to House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and his bipartisan counterparts, who included Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and California Democrats Jackie Speier and Zoe Lofgren. “No staffer or Member should ever feel unsafe in public service, and this bill will help make that a reality,” Ryan added.
Amid the national discussion of workplace sexual misconduct, several lawmakers have resigned or retired after revelations of alleged impropriety, including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.). Data disclosures last month revealed nearly $1.5 million in Senate “harassment” complaints over the last two decades, and more than $342,000 — including more than $174,000 for sex-discrimination claims — in settlements involving House members’ offices from 2008 to 2012.
Thursday’s bill drew upon previous legislative efforts from Speier, NBC News reported. “It’s time to make it crystal clear that anyone that does not respect coworkers — anyone who sexually harasses or sexually assaults — is going to pay a huge price,” the congresswoman told Moneyish in a November interview. “Not the other way around.”
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