Utah congressional representatives are taking the current wave of sexual harassment claims seriously. As they should. The flood of sexual harassment and assault allegations is drowning our daily news consumption.
Rep. Mia Love introduced legislation on Friday that would require senators and representatives to pay settlement awards to alleged victims out of their own pockets. Salt Lake Tribune reporter Courtney Tanner reported that the proposed legislation “would ban Congress from spending taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims filed against lawmakers.”
Recently, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., have been accused of sexual harassment. Conyers is currently under investigation. And, of course, Alabama Republican senate nominee Roy Moore has been accused of inappropriate relationships with teenage girls.
About the current practice, Love said, “Taxpayers should not be paying to settle these cases just because the accused happens to be a member of Congress. ... If someone behaves badly, the consequences to those actions are that person’s responsibility and no one else’s.”
Rep. Chris Stewart also proposed legislation attempting to curb the onslaught of sexual harassment and assault in congressional offices. Since 1995, sexual harassment claims have been confidential. Stewart’s bill would allow victims who receive settlements to choose, if they wanted, to publicly identify the alleged harasser. Stewart even called to reveal names of those who have settled prior claims.
Stewart commented, “Victims of sexual misconduct deserve a voice, and the American people deserve the utmost level of transparency.”
The House recently voted to require that members complete anti-harassment training. Senators are already required to do so.
While Love’s heart is in the right place, it may not be the best policy to absolve the federal government of the conduct of its representatives. Employers are vicariously liable for the conduct of their employees while at work. Legislative interns, committee staffers, even cafeteria workers should not lose the right to recover damages or collect settlements from a congressman’s employer – the federal government – which ostensibly has a much bigger pocket. The federal government needs a reason to police its representatives; absolving it of any responsibility for its employees’ bad conduct will remove its incentive to prevent such conduct.
Perhaps Love could include verbiage that allows the government to recoup settlement amounts from individual congressmen so they could be accountable.
The key is transparency. An employer who has to pay out a settlement for an employee’s wrongdoing can turn around and fire the employee. Taxpayers, though, won’t fire congressmen if they don’t know about the wrongdoing.
There should be no more secret settlements.