Alabama’s U.S. Representatives Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) and Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) co-sponsored a bill that passed the House last week requiring all House members, employees, staff and nonpaid personnel to complete sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training.
Looking deeper: Constituents are calling into question the long-standing protocol Congressional members have been using in cases where ethical matters are concerned. Objection points include the use of taxpayer money to pay sexual harassment and discrimination settlements between Congress members and their accusers, arbitration techniques that could benefit the alleged harassers, and lack of transparency and accountability of procedures.
Alabama’s U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), a former labor and employment attorney with decades of experience handling sexual harassment claims, testified before the passage of the bill.
“I applaud Congresswoman Comstock for introducing this legislation and pushing for its swift consideration. I look forward to continuing to work with Congresswoman Comstock, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and the House Administration Committee to combat sexual harassment and improve the way such claims are handled in Congress.”
Byrne offered the committee multiple ways to improve Congressional protocol.
- Mandate harassment training for all Congressional members and their staff.
- Implement a uniform harassment policy for all House employees and to not rely on the individual office to produce their own.
- Examine the Congressional Accountability Act to consider improvements to the complaint and enforcement process.
- Increase member accountability.
The timing: This bill comes in the midst of growing unrest as allegations continue to surface against sitting congressional members.
- U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) is found to have been accused by former communications director, Lauren Greene, of repeated sexual advances. The taxpayer funded Office of Compliance paid $84,000 to Greene in a discreet settlement between the parties.
- Newly elected U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) is said to have been repeatedly harassing a member of his campaign team while running for office. The woman, who is withholding her name at this time, later informed upper Democratic Party leaders and quit due to her experiences with Kihuen.
- A sixth woman has come forward accusing Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of sexual misconduct. The Senate Ethics Committee confirms that an investigation has been opened to look into Franken’s past behavior.
- The attorney representing U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) announces that the congressman is discussing whether or not to resign following multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. High-ranking members on both sides of the aisle are asking for Conyers to step down, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Up ahead: Americans are calling for improvements in how Congress handles unethical behavior. Both the House and the Senate have passed resolutions for change, so the coming weeks should see proposals for what the specific policy changes look like. As more details come forward, the accused congressmen could be staying in office or facing an early end to their terms.