House panel plans bill requiring lawmakers to pay for sexual harassment settlements
© Camille Fine

The House Administration Committee announced Thursday that it expects to advance legislation in the new year that would force lawmakers accused of harassment to reimburse taxpayers for settlements.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is working on legislation to overhaul Capitol Hill’s reporting system for harassment complaints. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for more transparency toward harassment settlements and for ending the practice of putting taxpayers on the hook for members of Congress accused of misconduct.

Legislation is expected to be introduced when Congress reconvenes in early January, with a House Administration Committee markup to send it to the floor shortly thereafter.

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At the direction of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanStudents arrested protesting gun violence outside Paul Ryan’s office Parkland father calls out Trump, McConnell, Ryan after Santa Fe shooting GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan MORE (R-Wis.), the House Administration Committee has been conducting a review of sexual harassment policies in recent weeks.

Apart from making lawmakers personally accountable when settling sexual harassment claims, lawmakers involved in discussions said the bill, expected to be unveiled next month, would establish a “clearer and fairer reporting and dispute resolution process” and “increased transparency” for settlements while still protecting victims’ identities.

“Our position from the beginning of this review and reform process has been: One case of sexual harassment is one case too many. We need to get these reforms right and ensure we are paving a path forward for a safer and productive congressional workplace,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

Members involved in crafting the bill include House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperOvernight Health Care: Drug exec apologizes for large opioid shipments | Schumer vows to be 'relentless' in tying GOP to premium hikes | House panel advances VA reform bill Distributor executive apologizes for large opioid shipments Americans connect with government at the library – so fix the Federal Depository Library Program MORE (R-Miss.); the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Robert Brady (Pa.); as well as Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockTax law supporters rally for Republicans in tough races Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-Va.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierOvernight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary Defense bill amendment would protect open transgender military service Navy to stop announcing names of officials fired for misconduct: report MORE (D-Calif.) and Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneWith new a president, we have an opportunity to begin the process of re-establishing relations with Cuba Right revolts on budget deal House passes landmark bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Ala.).

The wide-ranging legislation would come after the House and Senate both adopted resolutions to mandate sexual harassment training for lawmakers and staff late this year.

Speier and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem senators ask drug companies to list prices in ads Gillibrand to publish children's book about suffragists MORE (D-N.Y.) first introduced a bill, titled the “ME TOO Congress Act,” that would overhaul the process to report complaints of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

The current reporting system through the Office of Compliance requires staffers to go through months of mediation and counseling with the employing office before filing a complaint. If they go forward with a complaint, they can either file it in court or seek an administrative hearing that can ultimately lead to a settlement.

For the past two decades, settlements have been issued out of a special fund operated by the Treasury Department.

The bill introduced by Speier and Gillibrand would, among other provisions, make the counseling and mediation optional as a way to speed up the process. Their legislation would also require members accused of harassment to reimburse taxpayers of settlements.

Some lawmakers have wanted to go further than that. Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDivisions deepen as Mueller probe hits one year House conservatives ask Trump to intervene in fight with DOJ over documents GOP Florida gov candidate: I was wrong and Obama was right on Ebola response MORE (R-Fla.) introduced bipartisan legislation that would require lawmakers and staff to pay for harassment settlements. Previously accused harassers would also have to reimburse taxpayers — with interest.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid out over the years for victims of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. Settlements over the past two decades have totaled $17 million, but not all of those cases were related to sexual harassment.

Earlier this week, the Office of Compliance disclosed three additional sexual harassment settlements totaling $115,000 between 2008 and 2012. And earlier this month, the Office of Compliance released statistics dating back to 2013 showing that one claim of sexual harassment was settled for $84,000.

That $84,000 settlement was paid to a former staffer of Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdFarenthold says he won't repay K sexual harassment settlement Farenthold lands new job in Texas Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties MORE (R-Texas) in 2014. Farenthold has since announced that he will reimburse taxpayers and retire at the end of his term next year.

Multiple other lawmakers have been caught up in what is known as the “Me Too” movement, a wave of accusers coming forward with sexual harassment allegations.

Former Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersConyers's son in danger of missing ballot in Michigan Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties Even for TV 'royalty' Brokaw, 'MeToo' claim is legacy-killer MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned following revelations of a settled case with a former staffer who accused him of sexual harassment. Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksEric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties The Hill's 12:30 Report Sarah Sanders on Republican's 5-point win in Arizona: 'She's not Donald Trump' MORE (R-Ariz.) resigned abruptly after admitting to discussing surrogacy with female staffers, while Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart Franken100 days after House passage, Gillibrand calls on Senate to act on sexual harassment reform Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties Senate confirms Trump judicial pick over objections of home-state senator MORE (D-Minn.) will step down in early January after multiple women came forward alleging that he groped them.

Yet another lawmaker, freshman Rep. Ruben KihuenRuben Jesus Kihuen BernalHouse votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project Overnight Energy: Interior sending officers to southern border | Dem AGs want EPA to halt plan restricting use of science | EPA documents show secrecy push Nevada Democrat accused of sexual harassment reconsiders retirement: report MORE (D-Nev.), will also not seek reelection as a result of sexual harassment allegations.