The House passed new legislation on Tuesday to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policies following a string of announcements that multiple lawmakers engaged in sexual misconduct.
The legislation will streamline the process available to Hill staffers to report harassment; the bill will provide more resources to people filing complaints and establish transparency requirement for taxpayer-funded settlements to resolve cases.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who introduced legislation last year to ban taxpayer-funded settlements for harassment cases against lawmakers, said, “Taxpayers should not bail members of Congress out for misconduct.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), a sponsor of the bill, said, “Thanks to the ‘Me Too’ movement, the American public has made it clear that they have had enough. They expect Congress to lead and for once, we are.”
Congressional staffers under current law must go through months of mediation and counseling before they can file a formal complaint. The House-passed bill ensures that mediation is no longer necessary; the bill also provides staffers will additional access to legal advice representation.
Additionally, members of Congress accused of sexual harassment can now become financially liable for any settlement payments.
The House Administration Committee revealed that nearly $200,000 has been allocated to a special fund in the last two decades to cover congressional sexual harassment cases.
Rep. Jon Conyers (D-MI) announced last December that he will retire in the wake of allegations by several women who claimed he made unwanted sexual advances towards him.
Conyers has denied any wrongdoing, despite reports that one former staffer was paid a $27,000 settlement for charges of sexual harassment in 2015.
“I am retiring today,” Conyers said. “And I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support that… incredible, undiminished support I’ve received across the years of my supporters, not only in my district but across the country as well.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) also resigned in December facing several cases of sexual harassment. In his resignation speech, Franken called some of his accusers liars, “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.”
Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) announced that he will not seek re-election after reports revealed that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment case with a former staffer he called his “soul mate.”