(CNSNews.com) - A bipartisan House bill introduced Thursday to hold members of Congress accountable for sexual harassment allegations by forcing them to repay settlements does not require Congress to unseal past congressional harassment claims.
The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act was introduced Thursday by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). The measure was led by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Administration Committee.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) applauded the bill in statement Thursday, saying, “This past fall, we pledged to enhance the workplace safety of Congress, and today’s bipartisan legislation brings us one step closer to fulfilling that promise.
"It ensures that victims of workplace harassment have the resources they need to get the justice they deserve," he said. "No staffer or Member should ever feel unsafe in public service, and this bill will help make that a reality.”
The measure requires members of Congress to repay awards or settlements to the Treasury account within 90 days. Members of Congress who leave office will still be responsible for repaying the Treasury and are subject to having their annuities garnished.
The bill eliminates the mandatory counseling and mediation provisions allowing an employee to proceed to an investigation or to file in federal court. It also directs the Office of Compliance General Counsel to choose one of three findings: reasonable cause for the claim, no reasonable cause for the claim, or no finding of reasonable cause can be made before any hearing on the merits can be held.
It also requires that the Office of Compliance report and publish online every six months information on awards and settlements, which must include the employing office, the amount of the award or settlement, the violation claims, when a claim was issued against a member of Congress, and whether the member of Congress has personally repaid the Treasury account.
However, the bill is not retroactive and does not apply to previous settlements, according to Tracy Manzer, a spokesperson for Speier’s office.
In contrast, the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act, sponsored by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla..) and introduced on Nov. 30, 2017, calls for past congressional harassment records to be unsealed.
The DeSantis bill requires members of Congress and staff who have ever been named in a sexual harassment or sexual assault settlement paid by taxpayer funds pay the money back to the U.S. Treasury with interest. It also prohibits members of Congress from using their office budget to camoflauge payments.
The Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act prohibits the future use of taxpayer funds to pay for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims against members of Congress and staff.
It also requires that within 30 calendar days of all taxpayer-funded settlement payments the reason for the payment, the nature of the allegations, and the member of Congress or congressional staffer implicated in the matter be disclosed to the public.
Furthermore, the DeSantis bill says that anyone who received an award can “make public statements about the claims notwithstanding the terms of a nondisclosure agreement and nondisclosure agreements cannot be made a condition of any future settlements.”