Washington (CNN) Sexual harassment is back the spotlight Thursday on Capitol Hill on the heels of a veteran congressman’s dramatic resignation and as allegations of misconduct swirl around other male lawmakers .
For the s econd amount of time in less than a month , members of the home Administration Committee will convene a hearing to examine how sexual harassment complaints are handled in Congress and the antiquated guidelines which may have been in place since the 1990s. One concern that will be front and centre: How settlements happen to be reached between a congressional workplace and an accuser, and where the payout money comes from.
The hearing is dealing with additional significance in light of Rep. John Conyers’ announcement Tuesday to keep workplace. The Michigan Democrat, who was the longest serving member of the House, confronted multiple allegations of sexual harassment from ex – staffers — and settled at least one circumstance using taxpayer cash from his own workplace. While Conyers denied any wrongdoing, he ultimately succumbed to widespread phone calls to resign and endorsed his boy to take his seat.
At the guts of Thursday’s hearing may be the Office of Compliance, established under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act to mediate and resolve workplace disputes on Capitol Hill. The office’s executive director, Susan Tsui Grundmann, will get among four witnesses to testify, along with Gloria Lett, a counsel at the Office of House Employment Counsel; Victoria Lipnic, the acting chair of the Equal Employment Chance Commission; and Daniel Crowley, somebody at the law firm K&L Gates.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, an associate of Property GOP leadership, said this week that adjustments to the compliance workplace were “lengthy overdue” and that new studies of sexual harassment in Congress had been “deeply troubling.”
“Members of Congress — we should walk the chat, lead by case in point,” she said. “And we are taking actions to renew the people’s trust in the representatives that serve here in Congress.”
Office of Compliance found in the hot seat
There is broad agreement that the current system to handle sexual harassment statements in Congress Isn’t working and that reforms are needed. But there’s not yet arrangement on how to proceed about it.
Multiple congressional aides and lawmakers tell CNN that the most notable focus on Thursday will be the settlement procedure as it was setup by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 and is completed by any office of Compliance.
The recent sexual harassment complaints and settlements from years back that have recently been taken to public light have highlighted a system that lacks transparency and clarity to even those directly involved.
Many users, including those on leadership, have been surprised to understand about the system in place in recent weeks, sometimes acknowledging that they were unaware before exactly the way the process works . One specifically thorny issue which has come up may be the fact that users can utilize a fund setup with taxpayer us dollars to stay their sexual harassment complaints.
Often whenever a settlement is manufactured, because of the complex tips and the parties signing non-disclosure agreements , there are extremely few who finish up knowing about any of it on Capitol Hill.
Growing calls for changes
With allegations of sexual harassment mount against users of Congress, lawmakers are calling for change.
Among the proposals to reform how complaints are taken care of on Capitol Hill is a bipartisan bill to remove a US Treasury fund used to pay out sexual harassment settlements. The theory is component of a bigger call to bring extra transparency to the compliance workplace, including making public which members have been accused of misconduct and involved with settlements.
“We don’t know those names,” Property Speaker Paul Ryan said the other day. “We don’t have these details. And that’s why he’s (Chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi) reviewing the process. He is doing hearings. We happen to be waiting for the committee to review they entire procedure to observe how this settlements concern needs to be tackled and reformed going forward.”
There were numerous calls for a complete overhaul to the machine, to bring extra transparency and accountability.
ANY OFFICE of Compliance, under the authorizing statute that governs their office, is required to make suggestions to Congress every 2 yrs of changes they’d prefer to see manufactured to the system. However the Congressional Accountability Act provides remained untouched since its inception in 1995.
Lawmakers under fire
Several other members of Congress have been accused of sexual harassment.
BuzzFeed reported Friday a former staffer to Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada said the congressman harassed and inappropriately touched her during his 2016 congressional campaign. According to the woman, Kihuen repeatedly propositioned her despite her rejections, and touched her thigh on two different situations without her consent.
The report has prompted Democratic Congressional Marketing campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to ask Kihuen to resign. Kihuen said he’d not resign Tuesday. After the story primary broke, Kihuen apologized in a affirmation.
“I sincerely apologize for whatever I may have said or done that made her look uncomfortable,” Kihuen said. “I consider this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am. I grew up in a strong spouse and children that educated me to treat women with the utmost dignity and respect.”
In the meantime, GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas reportedly settled a sexual harassment complaint brought by an aide in 2014. According to the OOC, there has only been one sexual harassment settlement regarding a House member that was paid from the OOC’s fund since 2013, totaling $84,000.