FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas - A Fort Bend County lawmaker has introduced a bill addressing sexual harassment payouts in Washington.
Representative Pete Olson, R-TX, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, filed legislation that will require members of congress to repay taxpayer dollars used in sexual harassment settlements. If the elected official resigns, the money would then be deducted from their retirement pay.
The move comes after Corpus Christi Congressman Blake Farenthold reportedly used $84,000 in tax dollars to settle a lawsuit filed by a former aide. The Republican has since promised to repay the money.
The new legislation is an amendment to the Congressional Accountability Act. As the law is written now, if a workplace complaint is filed against a member of Congress, that elected official can negotiate a settlement, which is paid out of a federal fund, according to KHOU political analyst Bob Stein.
“By requiring a reimbursement, we can now find a trail of settlements going forward. That is, in the past, the law would allow for a settlement to occur as a closed or secret settlement, and we wouldn’t know the details. We wouldn’t even know if the member had been charged,” Stein said. “I think this is possibly a way in which not only to prevent federal funds from being used for the bad behavior of members, but for getting some type of disclosure or what we might call openness in terms of the record.”
Rep. Pete Olson released the following statement about the amendment:
“Recent reports of harassment coming out of Capitol Hill are disgusting and wrong on every level. The notion that any claims of harassment have been settled at taxpayer expense is simply indefensible. As we look to right this wrong, I have concerns with any colleagues seeking the easy way out by resigning and thinking this action gets them off the hook. That’s why not only does this bill require members to reimburse the Treasury for payments to victims, but also provides a mechanism for reimbursement should anyone leave office. The wonderful staffers who come to Capitol Hill to serve the American people deserve a safe work environment. If that safety is breached, they deserve compensation from the person who harms them, not the American taxpayers. I thank my colleague Elise Stefanik for joining me in this effort and hope we can get this bill to the House floor for consideration as soon as possible.”
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