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 RyanEarmarks look to be making a comeback Former staffers push Congress for action on sexual harassment measure House Republicans need history lesson in battle over next leader 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 HarperGOP lawmakers urge improvements to cyber vulnerabilities resource Bipartisan leaders of House panel press drug companies on opioid crisis Republican chairman wants FTC to review mergers of drug price negotiators MORE (R-Miss.); the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Robert Brady (Pa.); as well as Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration Juan Williams: Trump's hostile takeover of the GOP MORE (R-Va.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierFemale House Dems urge Senate to delay Kavanaugh testimony for FBI investigation Election Countdown: Kavanaugh allegations put GOP in tough spot | Republicans start to pull plug on candidates | Dems get early start in Iowa | O'Rourke defends Cruz after protesters interrupt dinner | Why Biden is the Democrat GOP most fears Dems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage MORE (D-Calif.) and Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneOn The Money: Trump to seek new round of tax cuts after midterms | Mnuchin meets with Saudi crown prince | Trump threatens to cut foreign aid over caravan GOP lawmaker proposes legislative maneuver to fund Trump's border wall Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus 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 GillibrandSchumer’s headaches to multiply in next Congress Election Countdown: Arizona Senate race still too close to call | Florida vote tally fight heats up | Trump calls for Abrams to 'move on' Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems 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 DeSantisSchumer tells Trump to stay out of Florida recount Rick Scott fundraises off Trump claim that Dems are trying to steal election Mika Brzezinski: McSally setting ‘far better example’ than ‘GOP men who will likely win’ 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 FarentholdFormer aides alleging sexual harassment on Capitol Hill urge congressional action AP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups 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 ConyersWomen play pivotal role in delivering House to Dems Don Young holds on to House seat in Alaska Rashida Tlaib becomes first Palestinian-American woman to win congressional seat 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 FranksCook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership AP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct MORE (R-Ariz.) resigned abruptly after admitting to discussing surrogacy with female staffers, while Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenSenate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority Democrat Smith wins in Minnesota, will serve remainder of Franken term Harvey Weinstein accused of sexually assaulting 16-year-old girl: reports 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 KihuenDem Susie Lee defeats Danny Tarkanian to retain Nevada House seat Horsford returns to House after winning Nevada race Poll: Rosen leads Heller by 4 points in Nevada Senate race MORE (D-Nev.), will also not seek reelection as a result of sexual harassment allegations.