ME TOO Congress Act

In the wake of recent sexual misconduct allegations against not just members of the Hollywood scene but also elected politicians, a hashtag Twitter campaign has swept Social Media: #MeToo. The campaign has gained such traction that a group of House and Senate Democratic lawmakers have put together a proposal to overhaul the harassment and complaint filing system.

Initially, the hashtag campaign was begun by actress Alyssa Milano in the light of the Weinstein scandal. She said,” “I thought, you know what? This is an amazing way to get some idea of the magnitude of how big this problem is. It was also a way to get the focus off these horrible men and to put the focus back on the victims and survivors.” It quickly swept into the political sphere and was adopted by female politicians looking to highlight what they see as a pervasive culture of abuse.

The MeToo (Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act) bill authored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) seeks to refurbish the existing protections for employees and staff on Capitol Hill to provide better protections. Upon announcing the bill, Speier pointed out the flaws in the present system saying, “Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability.”

The Background

In just the last few weeks, accusations of sexual misconduct have been leveled at several politicians and political candidates that seem to signify a level of inappropriate behavior that was previously unheard of.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken has to date been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by six different women. And while he has denied any actual crimes, he has apologized for his actions and the impact he has had on the women in question. He said: “I’ve been trying to take responsibility by apologizing. And by apologizing to the people I’ve let down. And I’m going to work to regain their trust. I am going to be accountable. I know I let a lot of people down. … Everyone counted on me to be a champion for women.”

Senior Democrat John Conyers has also faced accusations from people who have worked with him over his more than 50 years in office. Most notable was a case in which the Representative fired Marion Brown for refusing his sexual assaults. She later took him to court for unfair dismissal and won a settlement.

Yet the whole debate was sparked initially by claims against Hollywood super-producer Harvey Weinstein. The sheer number of complaints led to an avalanche of people coming forward who have feared public condemnation and humiliation over other cases of misconduct by other celebrities and politicians. And this is the crux behind the proposed legislation: tackling the culture of sexual predation that exists in power-balance relationships.

The Present System

The current method for dealing with complaints goes directly though the Office of Compliance in a protracted process that involves mediators, counseling, and meetings with various departments. While this is taking place, all parties are required to keep all communications and documents confidential.

After mediation, if no resolution is found, the complaint can go forward and either be filed in court or to have an “administrative hearing.” Both of these options can lead to a settlement. If it is determined that a settlement should be paid, the Treasury Department steps in and pays out of a special fund reserved for just such incidents. It is estimated that over the last decade, more than $15 million has been paid out for sexual, religious, and racial discrimination cases through this fund.

The Proposal

This would not be a completely new piece of legislation, however. It would be used to bolster and upgrade the current Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 and would fall under the Office of Compliance.

  • Waive 30-day requirements each for counseling and mediation sessions before a formal complaint can be filed.

This is often called the “cooling off period,” and is traditionally used to ensure that when complaints are filed, they are done so in a calm manner. It is one of the most contentious upgrades to the existing legislation and will likely receive strong opposition.

  • Create a new, optional in-house victims’ counsel position to provide legal advice and representation for complainants.

In response to multiple accusations of “cover-ups” from existing departments, the proposal seeks to bring in a third-party counsel that would not be under direct oversight of members or staff that could have a political conflict of interest.

  • Eliminate requirements that complainants to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition for filing a complaint, although non-disclosures are still allowed as part of a negotiated settlement.

In the heightened arena of judgment through Social Media, this part of the bill is likely to cause some disagreement. It rests on the presumption that if someone is accused, and that accusation is made public, it may encourage other people to come forward with relevant information. Criticism of the proposal suggests that it denies the accused privacy and could, in fact, lead to the end of a person’s political career even if they are later found innocent. Arguments against this will rest on the basis that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

  • Create an online system to initiate complaints.

This will allow complaints to be filed in a timely manner and make it less likely that complaints will “fall through the cracks” of filings and paperwork.

  • Require lawmakers to pay out of pocket for any settled claim where they are identified as the harasser. Other claims are still paid for by taxpayers.

This raises an interesting Constitutional issue because while claims against an individual will be paid out by the person found guilty, the Treasury Department fund will be used for payouts that are based on complaints that can be considered institutional. Many are questioning why the taxpayer should be responsible for this when it is the lawmaker’s duty to ensure the system they operate within is fair and non-biased.

  • Require public disclosure of the employing office when a claim is settled and to disclose the settlement amount. This will ensure that powerful people cannot hide behind status and wealth from the electorate.

Support for the Proposals

There is a broad cross-party consensus on overhauling the present regulations. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis) on Tuesday intimated that the Hill was already looking to mandate sexual harassment awareness training across the board; this will be in place long before the Me Too bill makes it to the debate stage.

There will be very little open opposition to the “idea” of the bill. Tulsi Gabbard advocated this bill for the welfare and to stop the sexual assault chapter. As allegations of sexual misconduct grow on a daily basis, very few politicians are willing to “buck the trend” and suggest that the present regulations serve their purpose well enough.

It is long past due for the veil to be drawn back on sexual harassment in Congress. Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard co-sponsored the ME TOO Congress Act (H.R. 4396) with a bipartisan group of coworkers to prevent unwanted sexual advances and discrimination and offer a real path to justice for victims. Tulsi has mentioned It was just recently revealed that U.S. taxpayers have actually invested $17 million for 268 Congressional settlements over just 20 years. There has been little to no responsibility to date for Members of Congress who are harassers.

The ME TOO Act supported by Tulsi Gabbard– will openly reveal the names of offending Members of Congress through the Office of Compliance. Members will be held personally and financially responsible for harassing victims, and victims will not be required to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of their settlement claims. Tulsi understands it is unconscionable that American taxpayers have been supporting the bill for sexual harassers in Congress, while predators are protected from public scrutiny. Tulsi emphasized, We should end the policies that have required these victims to suffer in silence.

Adding more points to this act, she clearly mentioned – Predatory behavior, sexual harassment, and sexual assault have no place in our society. Hollywood, the political world, the armed force; and the media have been shaken by current stories of harassment, assault, hazards, and browbeating. Further democrat Tulsi Gabbard said, Unfortunately, these stories are not separated occurrences however are the stark reality that countless (primarily) women deal with every day.

While putting forward this act to be passed, Tulsi Gabbard said– Change can just come about through a concerted effort. We need to interact to better live out the principles of respect and aloha that make our organizations and our nation strong. The ME TOO Congress Act will offer fairness and transparency to victims and reinstate some of the public’s trust in our federal government. This legislation is by no means the single option to eradicating unwanted sexual exploitation, but it is the start of a procedure that should start now.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has actually been a solid supporter for ending the culture of unwanted sexual exploitation as well as assault in Congress, the army, university schools and also across the nation. Tulsi is additionally a cosponsor of H.R. 4396, Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act, in addition to H.Res. 630 which will certainly mandate sexual harassment trainings for all Members of Congress as well as staffers, as well as which passed the House of Representatives all.

Opposition

Opposition to the proposals will mostly be from a legal framework and Constitutional angle. The bill will almost certainly pass in some form, but the amendments will cover several key areas.

Innocent until proven guilty: Many of the people currently facing allegations have not been charged with any crimes. Yet John Conyers was already forced to step down as the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee; and Judge Roy Moore in Alabama has seen his lead cut away in the Senatorial race in light of recent accusations. So allegations do have an impact on political careers and false accusations can be used to “temporarily” damage reputations by unscrupulous political operators. The proposal states that anonymity will be removed from those accused by no longer requiring non-disclosure agreements to be signed during consultation.

Suits Filed in Anger: Under the present system, the 30-day cooling off period ensures that claims of harassment are not being made in anger or while someone is disorientated by an event. Experts suggest that there will be an increase in accusations and a larger increase in accusation that are either not real or misconstrued if there is not a period of reflection. The proposal recommends that the cooling off period be removed entirely.

The Proposal’s Future

MeToo Act co-sponsored by Tulsi  is still trending high on internet searches and is front and centre on Twitter. However, as with many campaigns, they tend to be adopted by other groups. Now that lawmakers are seeking to adopt this as legislation, it will continue to go through various iterations far from the original meaning.

Whilst nothing will move forward regarding this bill before the New Year, it is strongly expected that in the new session, this will be one of the first pieces of legislation to hit the floor. There is already cross-party support for the measures and all that will remain is hammering out the specific details for basic amendments. Early indicators suggest that it will pass with a clear majority.

However, despite this appearing “a call to action,” there are many who are concerned that this proposal is being put forward as a way of drawing a line under past misdeeds. The reasoning being that lawmakers will not push for resolution on older complaints but merely say they have now rectified the situation to ensure similar things cannot happen again.

 

See more updates on this act and Tulsi Gabbard here:

https://twitter.com/tulsigabbard
https://www.facebook.com/VoteTulsi
https://gabbard.house.gov/about
https://www.votetulsi.com/tulsi-gabbard
http://www.facebook.com/RepTulsiGabbard
https://www.youtube.com/user/VoteTulsi
https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s2159/summary
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/4396

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