WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House passed legislation Tuesday to overhaul how members of Congress and their staffs report sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, a response to reports about the current system's tangle of confusing guidelines and culture of secrecy.
"From members to staff, no one should feel unsafe serving in Congress," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement following a voice vote.
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, agreed.
"This bill is long overdue, and I'm glad Congress is finally pushing it forward," Love said in a statement. Love's bill, Stop Taxpayer Obligations to Perpetrators of Sexual Harassment Act, was rolled into Tuesday's legislation.
Since October, eight members of Congress have either resigned or abandoned re-election bids amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Some members and aides have complained about a patchwork system for reporting offenses and secrecy around settlements paid by lawmakers' office.
Under the new legislation, lawmakers will be required to reimburse the Treasury within 90 days for any harassment settlements made with taxpayer funds, including members who've left office; if they don't, their wages could be garnished.
"Taxpayers should not be paying to bail out those who have behaved badly, just because that person is a member of Congress," Love said.
The legislation also requires that a list of member offices that have reached sexual harassment settlements be published twice a year. Staffers and aides would no longer be required to participate in counseling and mediation before pursuing a harassment claim or filing a federal lawsuit, and will have opportunities to work remotely while their complaints are being investigated. The bill extends protections to interns and fellows.
The House also passed a resolution Tuesday barring lawmakers from using their office budgets to settle complaints.2 comments on this story
Additionally, the resolution requires each member office to implement an anti-harassment policy, and it establishes the Office of Employee Advocacy, which will provide aides who file complaints with legal assistance, consultation and representation. The resolution also prohibits members from engaging in sexual relationships with members of their staff.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the bill is an overdue move toward transparency.
The bill advances to the Senate.
Contributing: Annie Knox