Fort Bend County lawmaker introduces bill to change how federal harassment settlements are paid

A Fort Bend County congressman is joining the push for legislative change as the national wave of sexual harassment accusations against public figures continues.

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, co-sponsored a bill Wednesday with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, D-21, which would require members of Congress who commit sexual harassment or sexual assault, in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for any awards or settlements made from their taxpayer-funded accounts.

“As we look to right this wrong, I have concerns with any colleagues seeking the easy way out by resigning and thinking this action gets them off the hook,” Olson said in a statement released Dec. 21. “That’s why not only does this bill require members to reimburse the Treasury for payments to victims, but also provides a mechanism for reimbursement should anyone leave office.”

Olson's district includes all or parts of Katy, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Richmond, Rosenberg, Pearland and Alvin. Stefanik also issued a statement calling the bill a commonsense measure and thanked Olson for his support.

“I was pleased to join my colleagues recently to pass mandatory sexual harassment training for the House of Representatives, and this bill is one more important step to protecting our workspaces from abuse,” she said.

The list of federal lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct includes Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-27; Rep. John Conyers, D-MI; Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-NV; and Se. Al Franken, D-MN, who will resign Jan. 2.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton, R-6, also said in November that he would not seek re-election after a nude photo of him circulated online and The Washington Post published an accusation by a woman who claimed the congressman threatened to report her to Capitol Police if she shared sexually explicit materials he had sent her.

Meanwhile, in the state legislature, the Texas Senate Committee on Administration reviewed the chamber’s sexual harassment policy Dec. 14. Committee Chair Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the senate would investigate any report of sexual harassment it received.

“The reality is that this is a human resources issue, but it is also a human respect issue,” she said.

Patsy Spaw, Texas Secretary of the Senate, testified to the committee that, although the existing policy meets legal requirements, it needs to be updated. The Senate must do a better job of publicizing the policy, she said.

“And I guess maybe this is the time to say, too, that perhaps many of you don’t realize it but we do take it seriously and we have tried to provide training—not just sexual harassment prevention training—but training for our staff to handle these,” Spaw said.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have also been made against state Sen. Borris Miles, D-13, whose district includes parts of Missouri City; and state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-19. Miles issued a statement Dec. 7, after The Daily Beast published the accusations.

“I will not continue to address anonymous accusations that attack my personal and professional character as an effective lawmaker,” he said. “Sexual harassment is a serious offense and I plan to join my colleagues in the Senate in developing policy that allows all people due process and assurances they may work effectively in a fair and safe environment.”


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