After months of deliberation, it seems like Congress will actually hold its members at least somewhat accountable for harassment.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to would change how harassment is handled on Capitol Hill. The bill dictates that settlements involving members of Congress must be disclosed publicly (even if they’ve already left office), and all settlements should be referred to the House or Senate ethics committees for review. Perhaps most notably, it makes it so that congresspeople will actually have to pay for their own settlements in harassment or retaliation claims.
Previously, those settlements had been funded by taxpayer money. Earlier this year, for instance, it was revealed that former Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to reach a settlement with a woman who said he sexually harassed her, then illegally fired her when she spoke out. As of July, the Times reports, he still hadn’t paid back the Treasury Department — which is perfectly legal under current U.S. law.
On Wednesday, lawmakers in the House and Senate reached a compromise on the legislation — a compromise that came more than a year after Capitol Hill had its own #MeToo moment, when female lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff members came forward about the harassment they faced from male co-workers. It also comes after months of debate between the House and Senate over its members’ responsibility for their own misconduct.
“For too long, victims of sexual harassment in Congress have been forced into a process that lacks transparency and accountability, and fails them at a time when they need the most support,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a lead negotiator on the bill, told NPR. “Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation — which we expect to pass in the coming days — will overhaul this broken process, ensure victims can immediately seek justice, and hold Members of Congress accountable.”