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Congress To Make Members Pay Out Of Pocket For Sexual Harassment Settlements

After months of gridlock, lawmakers have reached a deal on a bill overhauling how Congress handles sexual harassment claims.

Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET

Congressional negotiators have reached an agreement to overhaul the system for handling accusations of sexual misconduct against members, including a requirement that members pay out of pocket for some settlements and court judgments.

"For too long, victims of sexual harassment in Congress have been forced into a process that lacks transparency and accountability, and fails them at a time when they need the most support," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a lead negotiator on the bill. "Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation — which we expect to pass in the coming days — will overhaul this broken process, ensure victims can immediately seek justice, and hold Members of Congress accountable."

The deal comes after nearly a yearlong standoff between the House and the Senate over member liability and other issues in the bill. Senate rules committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the chief GOP negotiator in the Senate, says he expects the bill will pass the Senate this week to ensure staffers are better-protected when a new Congress begins in January.

"We'll do it as quickly as we can," Blunt said. "No other employer in America would deal with this issue this way. We have here a level of exposure that you wouldn't have if you worked anywhere else."

Blunt says the bill is a compromise between the House legislation, which would have made members liable for all settlements, and the Senate bill, which included caps on how much members would have to pay out of their own pockets.

Under the new rules, member liability would be capped in cases where a court assesses damages, but there would be no cap when cases end in settlements, Blunt said. Currently, settlements are paid through taxpayer-funded accounts members use to pay for office salaries and expenses.

Under the agreement, there would be a maximum cap of $300,000 on member liability for court-awarded judgments in certain cases, according to aides familiar with the legislation.

The Treasury Department would still be responsible for making initial payments to victims in order to ensure there are no delays, the aides said. Members would then be required to repay the government on a set schedule.

The deal provides legal counsel for House staff who file complaints and legal assistance to Senate staff. It would also eliminate a mandatory 30-day "cooling-off period" before someone can file a complaint.

All settlements and awards involving members would be made public at the time of the settlement, and an annual review would be released to the public.

The compromise falls short of the sweeping changes House members hoped to enact, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has vowed to pass additional rules when Democrats take control of the House next year.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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