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Paul A Duginski
Paul A Duginski
Paul Duginski is a political cartoonist and veteran newspaper staff artist. He enjoys reading history, literature and going bodyboarding whenever he has time.
 

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Posted in Politics / Elections / National

Safe Harbor for Harassers

Nov. 28, 2017 1:13 am
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“It was a system set up in 1995 to protect the harasser.”

That’s Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), on the ABC Sunday morning program “This Week.” She’s talking about the culture of secrecy on Capitol Hill where sexual misconduct is concerned.

Speier is one of those in Congress promoting legislation that would make the handling of sexual misconduct claims in the U.S. Capitol more transparent.

Scandals have recently embroiled lawmakers such as Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of the House, and Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.)

Under the 1995 law, complaints are presently handled confidentially, and lawyers require that settlements be kept confidential as well.

We, the people, are kept in the dark about these complaints and settlements, but we foot the bill. That’s right, settlements have been paid with taxpayer dollars.

Conyers, who has paid such a taxpayer-funded settlement, is stepping aside from his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The House Ethics Committee is investigating allegations that he sexually harassed staff members.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s glad the subject is being discussed and he hoped it would lead to more transparency. “I certainly think that if you accept taxpayer funds for a settlement, that should be transparent.”

I would go even further. If you are found to have harassed someone on the job in the Senate or the House, you ought to pay for the settlement yourself. Why should the taxpayers pay the penalty for elected officials who engage in sexual misconduct? This is absurd.

Maybe they’d think twice before sexually harassing someone if they were personally slapped with the bill. Not having to bear the consequences of their behavior may even encourage a cavalier attitude about such things.

Both houses of Congress have adopted or will adopt resolutions mandating anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for members and staff. That’s all well and good, but wouldn’t you think that people who have made it to Washington could be expected to know this sort of thing by now? Again, we’ll foot the bill for remedial training.

Members of the House and Senate, many of whom are lawyers, and many of whom — especially in the Senate, are quite wealthy — who debate and weigh life and death issues every day, need bone-head training so they can recognize harassment and discrimination? C’mon!

Some in Congress, Rep. Speier among them, think that settlements paid out since the beginning of the year should be made public. Why not? I think they should reveal any settlements for the last five or 10 years. Why coddle these offenders? They have plenty of perks already, and they’re supposed to be public servants.

I think we, the taxpaying public, have every right to know precisely how much of our money has been used to pay for bad behavior by people who work for us and ought to know better. If they don’t like public disclosure, they should have paid the settlements themselves.

As with Hollywood, politics is populated by people with outsized egos. Why should the halls of Congress be a safe harbor for sexual harassers, all on our dime?

 
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