Congress passes plan to make lawmakers pay for sex harassment judgments

Facing outrage from voters that taxpayer money was being used to pay for sexual harassment settlements against members of Congress involving employees on Capitol Hill, the House and Senate on Thursday approved a package of reforms designed to force members of Congress to pay for any such judgments with their own money in the future.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), the head of the House Administration Committee, noted that the bill will rightly hold "members of the House and Senate personally liable for unlawful harassment and retaliation."

"Time is finally up for members of Congress who think they can sexually harass and get away with it," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who last year told of being harassed on Capitol Hill when she was a young Congressional staffer.

"They will no longer be able to slink away with no one knowing that they have harassed," Speier told reporters.

The bill gives lawmakers 180 days to pay any harassment award; if that has not happened, then Congressional officials are authorized to garnish the pay of lawmakers, or take money from the member's retirement savings account.

If the accused member leaves the Congress, the law would give Congressional officials the power to garnish the wages of that former lawmaker in their new job, as well as taking money from an annuity or even out of that member's Social Security benefits.

Negotiations had been in limbo for several months as Senators resisted some of the changes approved by the House - Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi has said the House will move to strengthen its own rules dealing with other workplace discrimination issues, even if the Senate will not.

Another change in the bill removes the requirement that staffers who say they've been sexually harassed, will not have to deal with a 30-day 'cooling off period,' in which they are not allowed to bring a lawsuit, after they make a harassment complaint.

It's the first major change in sexual harassment policies in the Congress since the "#MeToo" movement began.

The bills were passed quickly in both the House and Senate; no votes were taken, as the plans were approved by unanimous consent.

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