As most major legislative issues Congress had hoped to address in December, the House punted into January its planned release of a bill updating sexual harassment policies.
“We haven’t finished it yet; we’re still working through it,” House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper said.
The plan is to introduce the bill the first week of January, the Mississippi Republican said.
“The idea would be that within a week do the markup in the committee and hopefully the week after that, let’s vote on that,” he said. “So that will be the goal is by the middle, certainly late-end of January, let’s have this out of the House.”
The goal of the bill is to make it abundantly clear what behavior is unacceptable so that there is never another case of sexual harassment, Harper said.
“There’s no doubt we’re already seeing very much of a sea change in behavior and what’s expected of members,” Harper said. “And this is not difficult. You just treat people properly and you’re not going to have these problems.”
A bipartisan group of members that includes Harper, Robert Brady, D-Pa., Barbara Comstock, R-Va., Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., have been developing the legislation to update procedures outlined in the Congressional Accountability Act.
The bill is expected to include protections for employees who file harassment claims and steps to increase transparency regarding payment of awards and settlements, while also protecting victims’ identity. It is also expected to require members to pay settlements out of pocket rather than use taxpayer dollars to settle claims.
Members’ official office budgets should never be used to settle a sexual harassment claim, Harper said.
Reporting processes would also be updated as part of the bill.
“There has to be an employee assistance office, probably within the CAO, to make sure that we have a place that somebody can go,” Harper said, referring to creating a new division under the Congressional Accountability Office.