Utah’s Rep. Mia Love proposes bill to stop Congress from settling sexual harassment claims with taxpayer money

Members would be responsible for paying settlement awards under legislation.<br>

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah meets with constituents during "open office hours" at her West Jordan office, Tuesday August 1, 2017. Love is proposing legislation that would end taxpayer-funding of harassment settlements against members of Congress.

Rep. Mia Love proposed new legislation Friday that would ban Congress from spending taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims filed against lawmakers — a practice that’s come under fire recently with the flurry of misconduct allegations on Capitol Hill.

Her bill, the Stop Taxpayer Obligations to Perpetrators of Sexual Harassment Act, would mean that accused representatives and senators would be required to pay award settlements out of their own pockets.

“Taxpayers should not be paying to settle these cases just because the accused happens to be a member of Congress,” said Love, a Utah Republican and the only woman in Utah’s six-person federal delegation. “If someone behaves badly, the consequences to those actions are that person’s responsibility and no one else’s.”

The congresswoman’s measure comes as prominent men in Washington, Hollywood, statehouses and beyond have been accused of everything from sending lewd texts to rape.

Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama allegedly had inappropriate relationships with teenage girls while he was a district attorney. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is under investigation after allegedly harassing aides. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has been accused of groping several women without consent.

Allegations of sexual misconduct also ostracized movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, as well as stars Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.

None of this behavior coming to light now is new, Love said, especially not in Congress. The unwanted advances and the off-color comments, the touching and the leering have been going on for years and have been concealed by a culture of secrecy.

“I think that too many people have gotten really comfortable doing inappropriate things,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune this week, noting that she’s been in situations in Washington where men have come “close to crossing the line.”

The pressure is on to change it, Love suggests. And she wants those accused of misconduct to be “held accountable.”

Roger Hoole, a Salt Lake City attorney, has handled sexual harassment cases for 25 years. There’s a possibility, he said, that a victim could be granted a smaller settlement if an individual lawmaker is responsible for the award money instead of Congress — as Love has proposed.

“It depends on how deep the pocket is,” Hoole said, noting that typically an employer, not an employee, is responsible for paying out a claim.

In general, though, whether the bill advances or not, he anticipates settlements increasing as more reports are filed and individuals continue uncovering the culture of misconduct on Capitol Hill. Victims are getting increasingly upset over how things have been handled, he said, and how deep it’s run for years. That gives them a bargaining chip, so to say.

“There’s little tolerance at all for members of Congress or staffers to get away with these things [now],” Hoole said. “That’s going to motivate people who are responsible for sex harassment to try to resolve claims. They might pay more money to do that.”

Love’s colleague, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, also introduced legislation this week responding to the allegations pervading the nation’s capital. He proposed changing a 1995 law so victims who get legal settlements could publicly identify sexual harassers on Capitol Hill, if they choose. Currently, complaints are kept confidential.

Additionally, he has called for the names of all federal lawmakers already accused of sexual misconduct to be released. And the House voted to require all representatives to complete anti-harassment training, which was previously only mandated in the Senate.

“There’s going to be more pressure on people to behave and treat others with respect,” Hoole said. “It’s not going to be tolerated. Even if [a member of Congress] abused people in the past, it could still come forward.”