(CNSNews.com) -- Legislation introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) last month would require the Congressional Office of Compliance to submit to Congress the names of those members who have used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims, require the members to reimburse the U.S. Treasury, and void non-disclosure agreements so victims can tell their stories.
The “Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act,” introduced by DeSantis on Nov. 30, currently has 88 co-sponsors.
"What does it say about the sincerity of Congress in combatting harassment when members and staff can have taxpayers cover for their misconduct while keeping it all secret?,” DeSantis said in a statement. “This legislation will protect taxpayers by making congressional settlement data public, barring tax dollars from being used to bail out congressional misconduct and requiring reimbursement of the treasury by members and staff who have had taxpayer-financed settlements paid on their behalf. The bill will also allow victims to speak publicly about harassment suffered irrespective of any non-disclosure agreements.”
According to the bill, “Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Office of Compliance shall submit to Congress and make available to the public on the Office’s public website a report on all payments made with public funds prior to the date of the enactment of this Act for awards and settlements in connection with violations of section 201(a)(1) of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.”
The bill calls for identifying the name of the “employing office involved and any individual” who used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims, the amount paid and the source of the funds.
It also prohibits the use of public funds for future sexual harassment settlements and requires those who have used taxpayer funds for claims to repay the Treasury.
The bill bans future nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) and allows those who have signed NDAs in the past as a condition of the settlement to “make public any information relating to the award or settlement.”
"Members of Congress and staff cannot live under special rules,” DeSantis said. “The current system incentivizes misconduct and makes it difficult for victims. By exposing these secret settlements and by discontinuing using tax dollars to pay for member misconduct, this bill will reduce the incentive for bad behavior and bring more accountability to Congress.”
According to the Congressional office of Compliance, since Fiscal Year 1997 Congress has paid out more than $17 million to settle 264 workplace claims from a Treasury Fund created by the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act.
Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) paid $27,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim with a female staffer in 2014. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) paid $84,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim from his former spokesman, also in 2014.
The identity of others involved and whether the claims involved sexual harassment are unknown.
Commenting on the bill, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said, “For far too long, members of Congress and staff who have committed egregious acts of sexual harassment and assault have hidden behind closed doors, anonymity, and forced non-disclosure agreements, while taxpayers paid millions in settlements for their misconduct. This is outrageous and must end now. Enough is enough."
“Our legislation will empower survivors by increasing transparency and accountability, and providing survivors the freedom to publicly share their stories if they so choose, regardless of the non-disclosure agreements they were forced to sign," said Gabbard. "It will also protect taxpayers by ending taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements, and requiring reimbursement of previous taxpayer-funded settlements. Congress has the responsibility to act now to correct this horrible injustice.”
House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) is also planning on proposing a bill next week which would "focus on all aspects of” the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, "including the reporting and settlement process,” his spokesman told Politico.