WASHINGTON — Taxpayers would no longer foot the bill for sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress under new bipartisan legislation released Thursday. Coming in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the bill would require members to pay such settlements themselves as part of an effort to overhaul a byzantine, secretive system that has been in place on Capitol Hill for decades.
The legislation, known as the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, is the culmination of nearly three months of work by members of both parties and comes after months of revelations of sexual harassment allegations that has led to the resignation or retirement of half a dozen members of Congress.
The bill gives victims more rights and resources when they file a sexual harassment complaint, simplifies the process and seeks to provide more public transparency.
Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., head of the House Administration Committee, who helped write the legislation with Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., told NBC News in an interview shortly before the bill was released that it "goes a long way toward preventing future bad behavior."
"What we want to do is create — and I think we’re seeing it already — a sea change in the culture in the members and the staff," Harper said.
While House leaders have not commented on the bill, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has been supportive of the effort and it is expected to have widespread support and pass easily.
The measure, much of which came from a proposal by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a House leader on the issue of sexual harassment, tries to create an equal playing field for the complainant while imposing personal accountability on the accused.
“I mean it’s a really great bill,” Speier said. “It’s been a very bipartisan and cooperative effort.”
The most consequential proposal would prohibit lawmakers from using taxpayer funds to settle claims. The accused must reimburse the U.S. Treasury within 90 days of a settlement, and if they do not their wages will be garnished. If that’s not enough, a members’ retirement account and Social Security could also be garnished. Lawmakers would also have to use a new certification process to prove such settlements are not paid out of their congressional office accounts.
“We’re going to wipe this kind of behavior out from a financial standpoint if nothing else,” Speier said.
The bill also creates a legal office to represent complainants similar to the existing one that provides counsel and representation for members of Congress.
"Those who have gone through the process have felt a little overwhelmed," Harper said. "Now you've got somebody who's got your interest at heart."
It also prohibits employment retribution, allowing complainants to keep their job while the process proceeds, by working remotely or taking paid leave.
To overhaul the complaint process, which has often been called cumbersome and degrading for the victim, it removes the requirement that a nondisclosure agreement be signed in order for someone to open a complaint.
Furthermore, any confidentiality agreement must be agreed upon by both parties. It also removes a mandatory 30-day counseling stage and 30-day mediation stage that has often intimidated accusers from moving forward. Instead, an investigation is opened immediately and mediation is voluntary.
One major concern from members of Congress was an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits. In an attempt to deter them, complainants will have to file their complaint under oath.
The legislation was supposed to be released before the Christmas holiday but it wasn’t complete and members didn’t want to rush it.
Read the rest at the link below....