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 RyanTrump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Ocasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller 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 ComstockProgressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers GOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door MORE (R-Va.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierSenators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment It's time for the left to advance a shared vision of national security: Start by passing the NDAA MORE (D-Calif.) and Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneAlabama GOP senate candidate says 'homosexual activities' have ruined TV, country's moral core The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Alabama senator says Trump opposed to Sessions Senate bid 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 GillibrandDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash 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 DeSantisTo win over Midwesterners, Democrats should rethink school choice stance DeSantis wants statue of civil rights activist to replace Confederate figure on Capitol Hill Florida couple wins right to plant vegetables in front yard after years-long legal battle 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 FarentholdMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid 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 ConyersEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' McConnell: Reparations aren't 'a good idea' This week: Democrats move funding bills as caps deal remains elusive 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 FrankenTrump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions Al Franken: It's time to start taking Trump 'literally' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Mexican officials scramble to avoid Trump tariffs 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.