WILKES-BARRE — The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed two bills to overhaul the current sexual harassment training, reporting, and prevention process in Congress.
The bills would also reform current provisions under the Congressional Accountability Act to require members of Congress to pay for sexual harassment settlements.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, voted in favor of both measures which passed the House by voice vote.
“As the father of four daughters, I find such conduct unconscionable,” Barletta said following the vote. “Sexual harassment and misconduct is unacceptable under any circumstance, and has no place in our government or society.”
Barletta said victims must be protected, while perpetrators held accountable under the constitutionally appropriate avenues of due process. He said these reforms are critical to protecting potential and recovering victims, by punishing bad behavior and holding violators accountable.
“I am also pleased the bills would reverse the perverse system of using taxpayer funds to settle harassment cases,” Barletta said. “This is a scandalously unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars.”
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said he has zero tolerance for sexual harassment by anyone in his office.
“Strengthening our anti-harassment and anti-discrimination procedures was overdue for the House as an institution, and I’m glad we passed legislation to improve the clear inadequacies,” Cartwright said. “I will continue to advocate for policies that strengthen protections for victims and improve Congress’ transparency.”
Capitol Hill has found itself squarely in the center of a national reckoning over sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in the workplace, according to a recent Associated Press story. Since October, eight lawmakers have either resigned or abandoned re-election bids amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Some members and aides have complained about a patchwork system for reporting offenses and secrecy around settlements paid by lawmakers’ offices.
Under the new legislation, lawmakers will be required to reimburse the Treasury within 90 days for any harassment settlements made with taxpayer funds, including members who’ve left office; if they don’t, their wages could be garnished.
The legislation also requires that a list of member offices that have reached sexual harassment settlements be published twice a year. Staffers and aides would no longer be required to participate in counseling and mediation before pursuing a harassment claim or filing a federal lawsuit, and will have opportunities to work remotely while their complaints are being investigated. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, also extends protections to interns and fellows.