U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz filed legislation Wednesday that would require congressional sexual harassment cases to automatically be referred to the House Ethics Committee.
The “Me Too Congressional Ethics Act,” co-sponsored by Wasserman Schultz’s fellow Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, is aimed at lifting the shroud of secrecy cloaking sexual harassment lawsuit settlements involving members of Congress or their staff members, according to a news release jointly issued Wednesday by Wasserman Schultz’ and Frankel’s offices.
The bill would trigger Ethics Committee inquiries and possible sanctions for unwanted and improper sexual behavior that generates an official action, such as a legal settlement or a finding by the Congressional Office of Compliance.
“The current process for handling sexual harassment cases in Congress too often protects the perpetrators while leaving the victims exposed,” Wasserman Schultz, who authored the bill, said in the release. “In sexual harassment cases where a settlement is reached or wrongdoing is found, the Ethics Committee should immediately initiate an investigation.
“As we’ve just seen with so many troubling legal settlements coming to light, that is simply not happening now,” she continued. “The congressional culture surrounding sexual harassment must change immediately — and it must be much more transparent and accountable. Victims of sexual harassment deserve to be heard. There should be consequences levied when the accusation is found to have merit, including and especially within the halls of Congress.”
Wasserman Schultz is from Weston; Frankel, from West Palm Beach.
“The ‘Me Too’ movement has arrived, exposing the toxic nature of sexual harassment. Members of Congress who breach the trust of their office by violating civil rights law, including acts of sexual abuse, should be held accountable both to the victim and the institution,” Frankel stated in the release. “This legislation assures swiftness and fairness in responding to an ugly chapter in the history of Congress.”