In December 2017, The Washington Post reported how the Office of Compliance for Congress paid over $17 million for 264 settlements and awards over various violations, including sexual harassment.

Now Congress has agreed on a bill that members of Congress will be responsible for their own settlements instead of the tax payer. As of now, “settlements are paid through taxpayer-funded accounts members use to pay for office salaries and expenses.”

From The Wall Street Journal:

The legislation would hold members of Congress personally liable for awards and settlements that stem from acts of harassment and related retaliation they personally commit. There would also be a preliminary review of the merits of the claim by a hearing officer. Those elements, some of which already apply to House members, would also apply to members who have left Congress.

“We are shifting the balance of power to more clearly protect the victim and create a more level operating place,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.), who has been one of the biggest advocates for the reforms on Capitol Hill.

The bill leaves out some provisions sought by Republicans and Democrats in the House, including one that would hold members personally liable for discrimination in their offices. House lawmakers plan to take up that issue and others in the next Congress, but lawmakers of both parties cheered the compromise brokered Wednesday.

“This will show that, you do something that you shouldn’t do and it’s a career ender,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican who was one of the key architects of the compromise. “And it’s something the taxpayers should never have to shell out money for.”

Both sides want to get this done with by the end of the year. If both chambers can agree on a bill then it will land on President Donald Trump’s desk in a few weeks. He is expected to sign it.

The House bill wants to make “members liable for all settlements” while the Senate bill includes “caps on how much members would have to pay out of their own pockets.” Blunt explained that “there would be no cap when cases end in settlements,” but only “where a court assesses damages.”

The Treasury Department will pay the victim right away, but then the member of Congress will repay the government on a schedule.

Story after story of sexual harassment and assault have come out since last year like those against former Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

This is an excellent first step, but more changes have to come out of this. My blog about the WaPo report detailed how the system consistently works against the victim:

Last month, BuzzFeed reported that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal claim with a former female employee who claimed he fired her after she refused his sexual advances. The article also contained the grueling process the victims must go through.

Without a human resources department, an employee must report sexual harassment to the Office of Compliance within 180 days. This will lead “to a lengthy process involves counseling, mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward.”

Once that ends, the employee may opt to take the case to federal district court or it can go to “an administrative hearing, after which a negotiation and settlement may follow.”

Matthew Peterson, the law clerk that represented the woman and “listed as a signatory,” also spoke to BuzzFeed:

The process was “disgusting,” said Matthew Peterson, who worked as a law clerk representing the complainant, and who listed as a signatory to some of the documents.

“It is a designed cover-up,” said Peterson, who declined to discuss details of the case but agreed to characterize it in general terms. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”

 
 
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