Today, lawmakers passed a bill that will change the rules governing sexual harassment claims against members of Congress. For the first time, Congresspeople who are accused of sexual harassment will have to pay their own settlements and some court fees, rather than relying on taxpayer money, Reuters reports.
The bill passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives. It will now go to the White House for Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment, to sign.
“Time is finally up for members of Congress who think that they can sexually harass and get away with it. They will no longer be able to slink away with no one knowing that they have harassed... They will pay back the U.S. Treasury,” Representative Jackie Speier, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement. “We want to thank 1,500 former staff members of Congress who wrote a letter to us who made the case all too clear, that sexual harassment in Congress was a huge problem.”
Under the legislation, lawmaker liability would be capped at $300,000 when a court has assessed the damages, but there would be no limit on lawmaker liability for settlements. Currently, the money is paid from taxpayer-funded accounts.
The legislation says Congress must also regularly report and publish settlements, a departure from past practices in which settlements were secret. [...]
The bill takes other steps to strengthen worker protections for congressional employees, such as eliminating month-long periods for “counseling” and “cooling off” that were required of employees who made harassment claims.
This is a huge step forward for Congress, and a sign that they are taking allegations of sexual harassment made by former staff seriously.
Last year, it came out that Congress had paid $15.2 million between 1997 and 2014 to settle workplace violations in the Capitol. In April, 1,500 former Congressional staffers wrote a letter to Congress voicing support for sexual harassment reform.
“Many current and former staff have spoken publicly about their own experiences, often describing a climate of fear, a burdensome and confusing reporting process, and a system designed to protect congressional offices at the expense of victims,” they wrote.
This November, the group wrote a follow up letter thanking Congress for taking action.
Rep. Speier says she and Rep. Bradley Byrne will file another bill next year to make Congress members liable for settlements related to civil rights violations.