Politics

Bipartisan Group Wants to End Taxpayer Money for Harassment Settlements

Members led by Rep. Ron Desantis also aim to disclose settlements dating back to 1995

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., is interviewed by a TV news crew outside of the House chamber. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan group of members announced legislation that would end the practice of using taxpayer money to settle claims of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

Republican Reps. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn were joined by Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Jim Cooper also of Tennessee and Kathleen Rice of New York. 

“These are taxpayer dollars that are at issue here and there is no reason the taxpayer should be deprived of knowing where their tax dollars are going,” DeSantis said.

Along with ending the use of taxpayer dollars to settle claims of sexual harassment, the legislation would require the disclosure of all settlements going back to 1995.

“Members of Congress who commit these egregious acts should not be allowed to hide behind closed doors while taxpayers are essentially forced to pay for misconduct,” Gabbard said.

The bill would allow victims who received settlements to make information public if they had filed a nondisclosure agreement and would prohibit the use of nondisclosure agreements as a condition to initiate any claim.

“It’s unfair to insist they have a nondisclosure agreement when they are in fact the victim there,” DeSantis said.

The legislation would allow victims to remain anonymous if they chose, DeSantis said.

The legislation would also prohibit the use of members’ representational allowances, which became an issue in the allegations against Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers when it was revealed that he paid an accuser out of his Hill office coffers after the Office of Compliance would not sign off on using its funds to settle the complaint.

Rice has been critical of the Democratic response allegations against Conyers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling him “an icon” and dismissing the claims of women accusing Conyers.

“I think that her comments on Sunday set women and quite frankly, our party back decades,” she said.

Rice also said ending nondisclosure agreements was wrong because it silences victims.

“That’s absurd. That’s not to say John Conyers was talking about this all before it came public, but once it did, he was able to say whatever he wanted,” she said. “And that’s plain wrong.”

Last week, a different group of bipartisan lawmakers announced legislation that would make sexual harassment training mandatory, simplify the reporting process and would require members of Congress to pay back the Treasury the amounts for settlements.

DeSantis said his legislation was mainly focused on ending taxpayer dollar use.

“That’s a compliment to this bill,” he said in reference to the other groups’ bill.

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