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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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 ComstockGOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Va.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierLawmakers offer bipartisan resolution highlighting sexual assault prevention Democrats put harassment allegations against Trump on back burner Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk MORE (D-Calif.) and Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama GOP strategist: Alabama Republicans need to 'gather around' candidate who 'is not Roy Moore' The Hill's Morning Report — Combative Trump aims at Pelosi before Russia report 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 GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? K Street support to test Buttigieg Kamala Harris backs putting third gender option on federal ID 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 court rules against Parkland sheriff Florida Senate approves bill allowing armed teachers New governors chart ambitious paths in first 100 days 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 ConyersMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Reparations bill wins new momentum in Congress Overnight Health Care: Pelosi asks how to pay for single-payer | Liberal groups want Dems to go bigger on drug prices | Surprise medical bill legislation could come soon 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 FrankenWinners and losers from first fundraising quarter Election analyst says Gillibrand doesn't have 'horsepower to go the full distance' Gillibrand campaign links low fundraising to Al Franken backlash: memo 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.