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Limiting sexual harassment payouts 'complicated,' lawmakers say

Kellie Mejdrich, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., an outspoken supporter of so-called regular order in the legislative process, said he thought "if you're doing it properly, you have it first reflected in the rules, and then followed up with an appropriation."

He said he'd support a funding limitation. But when asked why some members appear to be advocating separate legislation over a funding limitation on an appropriations bill, Griffith said: "Sometimes politics trumps regular order. Standalone is better politics."

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., who engaged in a major funding limitation debate during the fiscal 2017 appropriations season when he proposed an amendment to bar discrimination against certain federal contractors, said he had not thought of using a funding limitation to bar payouts for claims stemming from sexual harassment by members of Congress.

Maloney liked the idea.

"Well, that's an interesting idea," Maloney said, adding he had not discussed the issue with his Democratic colleagues. When asked why discussion hadn't taken place about barring funding for such payments using appropriations, Maloney replied: "That's a great question."

"I wish I had thought of it," he said.

In a sign that members are beginning to test the waters on some funding limitations, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., introduced a resolution Friday that would prohibit members from using what is known as the members' representational allowance -- which funds expenses such as staff, travel, mail and office equipment -- for paying out sexual harassment claims. But that wouldn't address the issue of Office of Compliance settlement funds that others are beginning to question.

The actual amount of payouts from the Awards and Settlements Fund have until recently been a mystery. But new information from the House Administration Committee Friday shed some light on that issue. The office reported an Awards and Settlement Fund has paid out $359,450 since fiscal 2013 to address six claims made against House-member led offices, $84,000 of which was for a sexual harassment claim, according to data released Friday by the committee.

A Senate Appropriations aide for the majority confirmed that authorizations for these payments were created by the Congressional Accountability Act, and funds are appropriated through what's known as a permanent appropriation. That means funds are disbursed from the Treasury on an as-needed basis.

 

There is a line item for "salaries and expenses" in the fiscal 2018 Legislative Branch appropriations bills in the House and Senate. But a Senate Appropriations Committee aide for the majority said that $3.959 million line item does not include any settlement claims or awards.

Approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 27, the Office of Compliance's funding level was equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $96,902 below the fiscal year 2018 request, according to the Senate committee report.

In the House, appropriators recommended the same. The bill was included as part of an omnibus package sent to the Senate in September.

(Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.)

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