House lawmakers have delayed plans to unveil a sweeping proposal that would change the decades-old law that put in place the system through which sexual harassment, discrimination and other workplace related claims on Capitol Hill are handled.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers including Reps. Gregg Harper and Robert Brady, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Administration Committee; as well as Reps. Jackie Speier of California and Bradley Byrne of Alabama said Thursday that they planned to introduce legislation to reform aspects of the Congressional Accountability Act when Congress reconvenes in January. It had been expected this week before lawmakers left Washington, and lawmakers said they are getting very close to releasing their legislation and are just solidifying the final text.
The forthcoming legislation is expected to make members liable for settlements, as well as to increase transparency throughout the process. It will also seek to make the reporting and dispute resolution process for congressional employees and to add protections for employees who file claims under the Congressional Accountability Act.
"The Committee on House Administration will hold a markup as soon as Congress returns and will report the bill to the full House," the lawmakers said. "Our position from the beginning of this review and reform process has been: One case of sexual harassment is one case too many. We need to get these reforms right and ensure we are paving a path forward for a safer and productive congressional workplace."
The 1995 law created the Office of Compliance, the congressional office that handles workplace-related disputes involving members of Congress and congressional employees, including harassment and discrimination claims. The Office of Compliance also controls what was until recently a little-known fund that is used to settle claims, including those involving sexual harassment.
Since 2008, the Office of Compliance has paid out $199,000 to settle sexual harassment claims, according to data the office provided to the House Administration Committee, something that many lawmakers have taken issue with.
Earlier Thursday, Speier, who has been a leading Democratic voice sounding alarms about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about a meeting between her and House Speaker Paul Ryan on the issue of harassment.
She said the meeting went "very well" and that the forthcoming legislation would make the system work on behalf of victims, rather than of harassers.
"We all agree that there should not be taxpayer money that goes to pay for these settlements and we're going to make members accountable for that," Speier said. "So I'm very hopeful that by the first of the year we're going to have a bill on the House Floor that is going to be one that we can all applaud as being victim-centric."
Last month, the House moved to make anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training mandatory for members and aides, following a similar push in the Senate.
Lawmakers want to reform aspects of the Congressional Accountability Act
The bill would aim to make more transparent the process for handling claims
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