Brooks, Comstock, Davis lead on reforming congressional sexual harassment
The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 6 unanimously passed legislation to reform U.S. legislative-branch sexual harassment rules, one day after their introduction, with strong support from Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN), Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL).
House Ethics Committee Chairwoman Brooks, and Reps. Comstock and Davis, both members of the House Administration Committee, championed the measures: the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, H.R. 4924, and House Resolution 724. The measures were introduced on Feb. 5 by House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS).
“Today, the House took steps to overhaul the congressional rules to increase professionalism and establish a workplace that is grounded in respect,” Rep. Davis said in a statement released after the passage of both measures.
Following reports of sexual harassment in Congress, the House Administration Committee held hearings to examine the rules and processes for sexual harassment grievances and the House Ethics Committee investigated claims. The hearings called for updates to the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) of 1995.
The two proposals include procedural changes legislative branch offices must make to protect their employees, according to a summary provided by the House Administration Committee. Among other provisions, the measures require members of Congress to reimburse the U.S. Treasury Department for any monetary settlements made against them, protecting taxpayer dollars. Reports of awards would be required every six months. Dispute resolution and reporting is not only strengthened but also streamlined.
“It’s going to take more than just a change in rules to solve this problem in our society. It’s going to take a systemic change that continues to say that this kind of behavior is never acceptable, and I believe members of Congress should lead our nation by example,” Rep. Davis said.
In House floor remarks on Feb. 6, Rep. Comstock addressed the bills’ reporting requirements, which she said now provide transparency. “People can’t hide behind the process anymore. The members’ names will be known,” Comstock said.
“It is so important that this legislation, this historic step, is fundamentally changing that balance of power by creating an office for the victims, the Office of Employee Advocacy,” Comstock added. “This is the single most important thing in this legislation to restore that balance of power that has been misused by those in power.”
Rep. Brooks also spoke about transparency during her Feb. 6 floor remarks, saying the bill would ensure future sexual harassment and discrimination settlements made “will no longer be secret.”
“The element of the CAA that allowed for silencing of victims and spending taxpayer dollars to settle claims for members of Congress must be changed,” said Brooks. “The CAA Reform Act will increase transparency and accountability in Congress and create a more victim-friendly process.”
“Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of this,” added Rep. Comstock. “The offender themselves will have to pay. We have all types of methods in here to get that money because we want to make sure the victim is made whole.”
Overall, said Rep. Brooks, the proposed legislation makes protecting victims a priority while ensuring due process for the accused. “Congress must be a force for justice in order to ensure all employees have a safe workplace environment that is free of sexual harassment or discrimination of any kind,” Brooks said, “because it is completely unacceptable to be subjected to harassment or discrimination of any kind at any workplace in our country.”