House Plan for Sexual-Harassment Complaints Would Bypass Ethics Watchdog

by 11:30 PM 0 comments
A bipartisan House bill to strengthen protection for congressional employees who file sexual-harassment complaints would bar review by Congress’s outside ethics watchdog.
The measure introduced Thursday would instead create a new Office of Congressional Workplace Rights that would examine complaints and refer them to the House Ethics Committee for potential discipline.
There would be no review by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Established in 2008 after a series of congressional scandals, the office reviews allegations of misconduct and, when appropriate, refers investigations to the House Ethics Committee for further action.
  The proposal comes after five members of Congress either resigned or said they wouldn’t seek re-election in recent months because of harassment complaints, as well as an outcry over the secrecy surrounding allegations and use of taxpayer money to resolve them.
The legislation would bar lawmakers from using taxpayer money for harassment settlements.
The bill was introduced by House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi and is co-sponsored by the panel’s top Democrat, Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, and others including Republican Bradley Byrne of Alabama and Democrat Jackie Speier of California.
“This has always been about empowering the victims.
The OCE is a dead letterbox for complaints," Speier said in a statement.
"We need justice for victims and that path is through" the workplace rights office and a new Office of Employee Advocacy, which she said "will finally provide victims with paid legal counsel.
" ‘Cooling Off’ The measure would do away with mandatory counseling, mediation and “cooling off” periods before an alleged victim can file a claim.
An OCE spokeswoman had no immediate comment Friday.
But Meredith McGehee, executive director of the open-government group Issue One, said in a statement that the House was seeking to "purposefully defang the Office of Congressional Ethics and undermine its role in upholding high ethical standards in the House of Representatives.
" In almost all circumstances, OCE makes a published report when it sends a case to the Ethics Committee.
That allows at least some guaranteed transparency, as matters sent to the ethics panel often produce no public determination.
  But OCE’s activities and reports have often rankled House members of both parties.
House Republicans tried in January 2017 to gut the OCE, but reversed themselves after then President-elect Donald Trump questioned the wisdom of doing so.

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