Bill seeks to stop charging taxpayers for sexual harassment settlements

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United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Among the tawdriest aspects of the Capitol Hill sexual harassment scandals was the revelation that taxpayer funds were used to pay off victims.

Congressional Representatives Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, and Elise Stefanik, R-New York, want disgraced lawmakers to keep their dirty mitts off public money and put up their own cash.

Olson and Stefanik have introduced the Responsible Settlement for Victims and Taxpayer Act, which would require members of Congress found guilty of harassment to reimburse the government for settlements paid to their victims.

The government would garnish the retirement accounts of lawmakers who resign or retire in disgrace.

“Recent reports of harassment coming out of Capitol Hill are disgusting and wrong on every level,” Olson said in a statement. “The notion that any claims of harassment have been settled at taxpayer expense is simply indefensible.”

Congressional officials say taxpayers were on the hook for $174,000 in 15 settlements involving harassment or discrimination claims against House offices between 2008 and 2012.

Among the payouts:

  • Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a 2014 sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former spokeswoman for his office. Farenthold, who has since announced his retirement, has said he would personally repay the money.
  • Longtime Michigan Democrat John Conyers reportedly used $27,000 in office funds settle a complaint in 2015 from a woman who alleged she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances.

Modest as the Olsen-Stefanik bill is — it does not apply to senators and leaves the door open for lawmakers to tap public funds for legal defense — the measure has yet to garner any co-sponsors.

Assigned to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the bill’s prospects for passage are uncertain.

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