Last week, Utah Rep. Mia Love introduced a new bill in the House that would stop the practice of using taxpayer money to settle workplace disputes in Congress. The bill, Stop Taxpayer Obligations to Perpetrators of Sexual Harassment (STOP), is an essential step in creating a climate where perpetrators of sexual harassment and misconduct are held solely accountable for their own actions.
Recently, Utah’s representatives have been leading a movement to place more public responsibility on congressional perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Rep. Chris Stewart has proposed legislation that would allow victims of sexual harassment and misconduct to disclose publicly the names of their perpetrators, as well as the total amount of their taxpayer-funded settlements. Additionally, this bill would void the requirement of a 1995 law that determined victims would be required to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of their settlements.
Love has pushed Stewart’s bill one step further, making sure perpetrators are also held fiscally accountable for their actions. Love’s bill would require settlements to be paid by the perpetrator, not the congressional fund, and that the settlements be disclosed publicly. This could potentially limit the settlement amount available for victims if the sum is based on the offender’s private wealth, not the taxpayer fund. However, Love's bill contains an important ethical stance that could do more to end harassment than confidential, taxpayer-funded settlements.
Love said on Facebook she believes “too many people have gotten really comfortable doing inappropriate things.” It’s vital that the momentum garnered in both the media and entertainment industries in holding powerful perpetrators accountable for their actions is not lost on Washington. Other should follow Love’s example of keeping the focus on the victims of misconduct to ensure that the #MeToo movement in the political realm does not collapse into politicization.
That may be unlikely, given the announced resignations of Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Sen. Al Franken, and the continued candidacy of Alabama Republican Roy Moore for the Senate with the support of President Donald Trump, who has his own accusers alleging sexual misconduct. Nevertheless, the push by both Love and Stewart is a worthy effort.
"I think it’s important that this is not being politicized, it’s not being used for personal gain. We have to make sure we’re not going out there doing anything that’s going to further victimize people who have already been hurt," Love said on Fox News. All of Washington should feel a moral obligation to heed this plea and make sure this cultural moment marks a turning point for both men and women, not simply another instance of lip-service and reluctant change.
Making sure perpetrators, and not taxpayers, pay the settlements of their own sexual misconduct is an important step.