We frequently criticize the Congress in this country, and for good reason. So when Congress does something right — and on a bipartisan basis, to boot — it’s only fair that it should be recognized.
Yesterday Congress passed legislation that would end taxpayer financing of settlements of claims of congressional harassment of staffers. Under the current system, if a Senator or Representative is accused of sexual misconduct and decides to settle the claim, the settlement is funded by our tax dollars. And, because settlements typically involve strong confidentiality protections, we may not even learn of the existence or nature of the harassment claim or the amount of the settlement payment.
And get this: more than a thousand former congressional staff members wrote to Congress in support of the bill. One of the bill’s sponsors, Democrat Jackie Speier, said that their letter “made the case all too clear, that sexual harassment in Congress was a huge problem.” Speier added: “Time is finally up for members of Congress who think that they can sexually harass and get away with it. They will no longer be able to slink away with no one knowing that they have harassed. … They will pay back the U.S. Treasury.”
The legislation reflects a compromise, as congressional legislation typically does; it also caps lawmaker liability at $300,000 if there is actually a court finding of harassment and assessment of damages. But at least court cases and decisions are matters of public record, so the misbehavior of the Senator or Representative will become known to all and they can be held accountable by voters for their misconduct. In my view, that cap on damages is more than outweighed by the elimination of taxpayer funding of settlements, a requirement that Congress report on and publish such settlements, and changes to other rules to strengthen protections for congressional staffers.
I don’t like the special treatment that members of Congress routinely receive, and my tax dollars obviously shouldn’t go toward enabling congressional misbehavior and funding secret settlements to cover it up. I’m glad Congress finally agrees with that common sense conclusion. The bill now goes to President Trump for his consideration. Let’s hope he also sees the light and signs it into law.