National Politics

‘No more hiding’: NC congressman wants to out colleagues with sexual harassment settlements

Rep. Mark Walker from North Carolina, incoming chair of the Republican Study Committee, addresses Arthur C. Brooks while discussing “Conservatism in the 115th Congress” at the American Enterprise Institute Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2016.
Rep. Mark Walker from North Carolina, incoming chair of the Republican Study Committee, addresses Arthur C. Brooks while discussing “Conservatism in the 115th Congress” at the American Enterprise Institute Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2016. McClatchy

A North Carolina congressman joined a legislative effort on Thursday that he said would hold members of Congress “personally responsible for their actions” when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse.

The proposed legislation would “increase accountability and transparency in the process for reporting sexual harassment and abuse in Congress,” N.C. Republican Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a news release on Thursday.

While the federal government would still initially foot the bill for settlements or court-ordered payments in sexual harassment or abuse cases involving members of Congress, the new proposal would require that the lawmakers repay the U.S. treasury within 90 days.

Information on such awards and settlements would have to be reported and published every six months.

If the bill, HR 4822, were to pass, the reports would be published online and would include the name of the office, amount of award or settlement, violation claims and whether or not the member of Congress had personally repaid the Treasury yet.

The bill is sponsored by House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican.

“Serving in Congress should be about public service, and that means holding yourself to a higher standard,” Walker said in a statement. “No more hiding indiscretions or paying settlements with taxpayer dollars. With this bill, members of Congress will be held to account for their misbehavior, just as the people they represent.”

Under the bill, members of Congress who leave office would still be responsible for paying and could have their wages garnished to ensure full repayment.

According to Walker, the bill would protect congressional employees by:

  • Providing House employees with access to “a dedicated advocate” who can provide legal consultation and representation.
  • Allowing employees to work remotely or request paid leave “without fear of retribution.”
  • Requiring a “climate survey of employees” every two years that would include asking about attitudes on sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Ensuring every office in the House has an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.
  • Eliminating mandatory counseling and mediation, allowing an employee to immediately have their issue investigated or filed in federal court.

Unpaid staff and staff at the Library of Congress also would be covered by the legislation.

Walker, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, faced criticism last year after he called female members of the group “eye candy.”

“We must become more vocal and visible. The accomplished men and women of the RSC and women – if it wasn’t sexist, I would say the RSC eye candy; we’ll leave that out of the record — are not attention-seekers. In fact many of them prefer to work behind the scenes in the process of what we call effective conservatism. However, we have no other alternatives to move in a more pro-active manner,” Walker said.

Walker apologized later the same day.

Walker, 48, originally of Alabama, represents North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Guilford County and all of Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Lee, Person, Randolph and Rockingham counties.

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768, @AbbieRBennett

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