After nearly a year of debate, congressional negotiators have reached a deal to reform the system Congress uses to handle claims of sexual misconduct against its members.
On Wednesday, both the House and the Senate agreed to terms on a bill that would make current and former members liable for their own financial settlements instead of taxpayers. The bill comes on the heels of the #MeToo movement which forced several members of Congress to resign. The deal would also publicly identify members who settle claims, extend harassment protections to unpaid staff, and create a system to process sexual misconduct claims electronically.
Although the deal, announced by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), takes steps to reform sexual misconduct claims, it exempts lawmakers from liability in discrimination suits and doesn’t provide legal counsel to staff members who file claims.
Senator Klobuchar, a ranking member on the Senate Rules Committee, said in a statement:
“For too long, victims of sexual harassment in Congress have been forced into a process that lacks transparency and accountability, and fails them at a time when they need the most support.”
NEWS: Reached bipartisan agreement between House & Senate on the sexual harassment bill I am leading with @RoyBlunt as well as House leaders. Our bill changes the rules so that victims (instead of politicians) are protected. We hope to pass it in the Senate in the next few days!
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) December 12, 2018
Last year, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) shocked the nation when she announced on MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily that the House of Representatives alone had used more than $15 million in taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims. Rep. Speier also stated:
“I think moving forward we have got to take steps to make sure that there is transparency, that in fact the harasser is not going to have the settlement paid for out of the U.S. Treasury, and have all of the taxpayers paying for it. It should be something that is paid for by the individual.”
Amid a growing number of allegations of sexual misconduct, more than half a dozen lawmakers have already been forced to resign, including Former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) who resigned in April after it was discovered that he used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a former aide’s sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
As the number of misconduct claims continues to increase, it has become glaringly obvious that those on both sides of the aisle are culpable. Former congresswoman Cynthia Mckinney noted last year that going after predators will take down both Democrats and Republicans.
Forewarning: this brings down Dems and Repubs! He needs to go straight all the way because this goes to the top!… https://t.co/hGjdJsujnq
— Cynthia McKinney PhD (@cynthiamckinney) February 24, 2017
While the new agreement falls short of the sweeping changes many House members had hoped for, it has cleared the way for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. In addition, Rep. Speier is reportedly working on introducing legislation which will address provisions that weren’t covered by the compromise. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has vowed to pass additional rules during Congress’s next session.