The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation introduced by Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch that would reform the way lawmakers’ offices handle sexual harassment cases.
The bipartisan “Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act” (H.R. 4924) is a direct response to a number of reports and allegations of lawmakers from both parties making making sexually harassing female staffers.
The bill will streamline the process that a House of Representatives employee must go through to report a workplace claim, including eliminating a mandatory 30-day counseling and mediation period. The new law requires that members of Congress have to repay the Treasury fund controlled by the Office of Compliance within 90 days, including members who leave office, and would require that each claim in which an award or settlement is made be referred to the House Ethics Committee — something that is currently not done automatically.
“The halls of Congress are not absent from sexual harassment. Just like every other workplace in America, we need to strengthen our anti-harassment policies for Congressional offices to create a safe environment for all employees,” Deutch said in a statement released from his office on Tuesday. “We are sending an important message to the entire country that perpetrators – even Members of Congress – will be held accountable. With unanimous passage of this bill in the House, we are starting to change the culture by preventing future abuse and empowering victims to seek justice without fear of retribution.”
The legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group of members including Deutch, Committee on Ethics Chairwoman Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, Committee on House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper, a Republican from Mississippi, and Ranking Member Bob Brady, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.
The House Office of Compliance revealed in December that taxpayers paid more than $342,000 to settle workplace discrimination disputes at House lawmakers’ offices between 2008 and 2012, including nearly $175,000 for eight settlements related to sexual harassment and sex discrimination accusations. The information revealed a $84,000 sexual harassment payment on behalf of Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold. Before announcing that he wouldn’t seek re-election, Farenthold pledged to pay back the amount of his settlement.
A former aide to former Democratic Rep. John Conyers received $27,000 in installments from Conyers’ office budget after she accused him of sexual harassment.
You can read all of the provisions in the bill here.