Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) helped lead the charge to pass major legislation on Thursday that will update how sexual harassment claims are dealt with on Capitol Hill, including that members of Congress will now be personally responsible for claims against them instead of taxpayers footing the bill.
The legislation, which passed both the House and Senate on the same day, reforms the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) of 1995, which sets up the harassment complaint process for employees on the Hill. For decades under the CAA, the Office of Compliance facilitated taxpayer-funded settlements for workplace allegations against members and their offices in secret. That office will be drastically overhauled under the new legislation.
Byrne had been working since 2017 to get this process fixed, relying on his past work as a labor-employment attorney. The new bill will make all settlements public record and make members of Congress personally responsible for paying settlements against them, even if they leave Congress.
In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Byrne said that it was well past time for members of Congress to start playing by the same rules as everyday Americans.
“The American people are sick of Congress being able to play under different rules than the rest of the country,” Byrne remarked. “That must change, which is why I am proud to have led the effort to reform the way sexual harassment claims are handled on Capitol Hill to increase transparency and accountability.”
“No longer will Members of Congress be able to use a secret ‘hush fund’ to pay out sexual harassment claims with taxpayer money. This has been a tough fight, but with these reforms we will make the Washington swamp a little less swampy and shine light on what is happening in the halls of Congress,” Byrne added.
Another important change made by the legislation will help protect interns, as protections under the CAA will be extended to include unpaid staff members for the first time.
In a press conference after the bill passed, Byrne reiterated that the legislation goes towards “draining” “the swamp.”
“That sound you are hearing is the swamp draining when it comes to harassment in Washington, D.C. It was important for the Congress to make this statement for several reasons. First, we did the right thing. By doing the right thing, we not only do right by the people who work around us and for us, but we do right by the American people. We should always keep that first and foremost in our mind. We also did right because we are setting an example. It is important for the leaders of the country to set an example,” Byrne said.
You can watch his full remarks here.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn