A bill has been passed that would no longer allow members of Congress to use taxpayer funds to pay off sexual harassment claims.
The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the measure on Thursday overhauling the rules for handling sexual misconduct claims Congressional members, NBC News reported. Under the current law, settlements are paid through taxpayer-funded accounts designated for salaries and expenses.
Legislators from both parties have lauded the measure which had been stalled for months while the two bodies struggled to negotiate an agreement. The bill updates the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
"Time's up. Time is finally up for members of congress who think they can sexually harass and get away with it," Rep. Jackie Speier, (D-Calif.), said Thursday, according to NBC. "They will no longer be able to slink away with no one knowing that they have harassed. There will be transparency and members will be held accountable."
"That sound you are hearing is the swamp draining when it comes to harassment in Washington, D.C.," Rep. Bradley Burn (R-Ala.) said.
The bill, which would affect both current and former lawmakers, has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.
What prompted the bill?
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were sent to the forefront of the #MeToo movement when more than a half-dozen resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Former Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) was among those who resigned earlier this year after it was revealed that taxpayers had paid $84,000 in settlement funds for a sexual harassment claim against him.
What else in the bill?
The new rules would also speed up the process for filing complaints by eliminating 30-day counseling period, a 30-day mediation period and a 30-day "cooling off period" which was required before filing a complaint, according to the bill's text.
Also, settlements would be paid initially by the Treasury Department to ensure timely payments to the victim. The member would then be required to repay the government.
House staffers who file a complaint would be provided with legal representation while Senate staffers would have access to an adviser.
The names of members involved in settlements and awards would be reported to the public.