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 RyanThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party 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 HarperCongress sends bill overhauling sexual harassment policy to Trump's desk Dems cry foul in undecided N.C. race Mississippi New Members 2019 MORE (R-Miss.); the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Robert Brady (Pa.); as well as Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (R-Va.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierSenator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Poll: 69 percent of Americans say they are watching impeachment closely The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment face-off; Dems go after Buttigieg in debate MORE (D-Calif.) and Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP lawmaker offers resolution to censure Pelosi for holding articles of impeachment GOP rep releases campaign ad ripping Kaepernick, 'The Squad' GOP rep rails against Democrats for rejecting Republican impeachment amendment 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 GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial 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 DeSantisFlorida Supreme Court rules convicted felons must pay fines, fees before voting Florida moves to purchase land to protect Everglades from oil drilling Top Latino group: Trump is about to hold a 'fake Christian campaign rally' 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 FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations 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 ConyersThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems release first transcripts from impeachment probe witnesses Hispanic Caucus dedicates Day of the Dead altar to migrants who died in US custody Today On Rising: The media beclowns themselves on Baghdadi 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 FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.) resigned abruptly after admitting to discussing surrogacy with female staffers, while Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenBill Press: Don't forget about Amy Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Al Franken mocks McConnell: 'Like listening to Jeffrey Dahmer complain about the decline of dinner party etiquette' 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 KihuenMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Nevada Dem sanctioned for sexual misconduct announces city council bid Dem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020 MORE (D-Nev.), will also not seek reelection as a result of sexual harassment allegations.