Well over a year after reports of Congress’ broken sexual harassment system made national headlines, lawmakers have finally reached a deal to change the system after passing different bills earlier in the session.
The compromise bill would not only eliminate the infamous “hush fund” used to settle harassment claims and make members pay their settlements out of their own pockets, it would also simplify the byzantine reporting process for victims and require a staff survey in each Congress to evaluate workplace culture on Capitol Hill.
“This bipartisan, bicameral agreement sends a clear message that harassment in any form will not be tolerated by the Congress,” reads a statement from Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “The reforms in this agreement will, most importantly, strengthen protections for victims and hold Members of Congress personally accountable for their 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,” Rules Committee ranking member Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. said.
The measure is expected to pass the Senate in the coming days.
While the agreement is hailed as a victory for government reform, it would not expose which lawmakers had made taxpayer-funded settlements in the past, a provision that lawmakers like former Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., called for after learning of the practice.
In the midst of last year’s public outcry, law professor and constitutional expert Dr. John C. Eastman explained to me that the secretive nature of the deals wasn’t just bad policy, it was probably unconstitutional.
“A lot of these non-disclosure agreements don’t list payouts of federal tax moneys for claims of harassment,” Eastman said in an interview. “I would think that you not only could but that Congress has an obligation to void those nondisclosure agreements because they operate in violation of Article 1, section 9” of the Constitution.