Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (VA-10) has been tirelessly working on legislation to combat sexual harassment in Washington, and on Wednesday Comstock took to the House floor in support of legislation that is set to rectify the problem of sexual harassment that has encompassed the nation, even the halls of Congress.
“We know sexual harassment is about power, the misuse of power,” Comstock said.
H.R. 4944 and House Resolution 724 are the reform measures for the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA).
The measures are to “Strengthen(s) the dispute resolution process and protections of employee rights under the Congressional Accountability Act,” according to the text. Furthermore, the legislation will, “Hold members personally responsible and increases transparency of member conduct, awards, and settlements through the Office of Compliance (OOC).”
The language of the new measure reads:
- Provides House employees with immediate access to a dedicated advocate who will provide legal consultation, representation, and assistance in proceedings before the OOC and Committee on Ethics;
- Provides opportunities for employees to work remotely or request paid leave without fear of retribution;
- Ensures confidentiality of processes;
- Directs the OOC to conduct climate survey of employees every two years that would include surveying attitudes on sexual harassment in the workplace; and
- Ensures every House Office has an anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy.
Streamlines and strengthens the dispute resolution and reporting processes:
- Eliminates the mandatory counseling and mediation provisions allowing an employee to proceed to an investigation or to file in federal court;
- Directs the OOC General Counsel to make one of three findings: 1) reasonable cause for claim; 2) no reasonable cause for claim; and 3) no findings of reasonable cause can be made before any hearing on the merits can be held; and
- Maintains opportunities for the employee to engage in mediation.
Members held personally responsible for any sexual harassment award or settlement:
- Holds Members personally accountable for their conduct and requires awards or settlements to be repaid by the Member to the Treasury account within 90 days;
- Ensures Members who leave office will still be responsible for repaying the Treasury, including garnishing annuities to ensure full repayment;
- Requires claims to be automatically referred to the Committee on Ethics when there is a final award or settlement reached against a Member or a Senior Staffer;
- Ensures due process by allowing a Member to protect their interest;
- Clarifies that Member-on-Member harassment is a violation of the Official Code of Conduct; and
- Requires the Member or Employing Office to certify that no Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) or official House funds are used to pay a settlement in connection with conduct prohibited under the Congressional Accountability Act.
- Requires the OOC to report and publish online every six months information on awards and settlements. Reports must include: the employing office; the amount of the award or settlement; the violation claim(s); and, when a claim was issued against a Member, whether the Member has personally repaid the Treasury account.
- Requires the OOC to publish within 30 days all settlements and awards, the amount, and the public funds used for all section 201(a) claims.”
Comstock stated during her speech that people cannot hide behind processes anymore. A full accounting of past cases of sexual harassment by members of Congress will be sought. The Congresswoman explained she is worried about members using their members’ representational allowance (MRA) in order to pay off victims of abuse.
The video of Congresswoman Barbara Comstock’s speech can also be viewed here.