House passes bill to force lawmakers to pay their own sexual harassment settlements

The House of Representatives approved legislation to reform how Congress handles reports of sexual harassment.

The most significant reform in Speier’s bill (officially known as the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act) appears to be a provision that forces lawmakers to pay back the U.S. Treasury when settling sexual harassment claims, a change that has drawn widespread support across ideological boundaries. Other popular provisions in the bill prohibit senators and representatives from dipping into their congressional office funds to pay off settlements and remove requirements for accusers to receive mediation and therapy for months in advance of filing formal charges.

The bill, born in the wake of the #MeToo movement, would overhaul aspects of the Congressional Accountability Act, the decades-old law that put in place the system through which sexual harassment, discrimination and other workplace-related claims on Capitol Hill are handled.

This bill comes following a series of high-profile reports of sexual misconduct in the halls of Congress. Staffers say sexual harassment is an “occupational hazard” on Capitol Hill. Congresswomen say Congressmen forcibly kissed them. And Michigan congressman John Conyers and Pennsylvania rep Pat Meehan have been criticized for using taxpayer dollars to pay sexual-harassment settlements against them.

Currently, to report sexual harassment in Congress, the survivor is required to go through months of counseling and mediation before they can file a complaint.

But now, under the new legislation, counseling and mediation wouldn’t be mandatory, and staffers would have access to legal representation.

Lawmakers would also have to pay their sexual-harassment settlements personally and could not use office funds. Under the new bill, the Office of Compliance would also publish a regular report with information on which offices have paid sexual-harassment settlements. And California rep Jackie Speier says in the last decade $15 million has been paid out by the House of Representatives on behalf of harassers.

“Thanks to the ‘Me Too’ movement, the American public has made it clear that they have had enough,” California Representative Jackie Speier told The Hill. “They expect Congress to lead and for once, we are.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, and according to Politico, its future is unclear.