Americans are searching for solutions to the sexual misconduct crisis consuming the worlds of media and politics in recent months.
We were angry to learn recently Congress has paid out more than $17 million in settlements to hundreds of federal employees who made misconduct accusations over the past 20 years. Details of those settlements are largely shrouded in secrecy, but we know some of them involved harassment allegations against elected officials.
Policy solutions are not always simple or obvious. But sometimes they are.
U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack and Rod Blum, a Democrat and a Republican, are co-sponsoring legislation to end special protections for politicians and staffers accused of workplace misconduct in Congress. The legislation would make the controversial settlements public, outlaw the use of tax dollars in such cases, and require previous offenders to reimburse the federal government.
Another important provision in the House bill would ban the use of non-disclosure agreements, and also affirm victims’ rights to speak out against alleged predators, even if they were previously pressured into signing a secrecy agreement.
“Clearly if somebody commits some kind of an egregious act like that, I think the American people need to know about it and I think those people need to be held accountable,” Loebsack said during a taping of Iowa Press on Iowa Public Television.
Transparency is crucial to addressing sexual harassment, as Iowans know all too well. Iowa Senate GOP leaders have repeatedly fumbled the response to their $1.75 million harassment settlement, because they refuse to be open and honest with the public.
Here is another seemingly obvious solution: U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley have introduced a measure in the Senate to require sexual harassment prevention training for all members and employees. At least three other Republicans and four Democrats have joined them to sponsor the resolution.
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“There is no place for sexual harassment on our college campuses, in our workplace, our gyms, our military – or anywhere else. It is critical that Congress has zero tolerance for such inappropriate behavior and action in our society,” Ernst said in a prepared statement.
What is somewhat frustrating is the fact anti-harassment training already is offered at the Capitol, but participation is not required for senators and many staffers. As Grassley pointed out in his prepared statement, “This is not an onerous requirement, and it’s one that’s long overdue.”
We are pleased to see broad, bipartisan support for these common-sense solutions. Loebsack, Blum, Grassley, and Ernst all deserve credit, while constituents should be asking U.S. Reps. Steve King and David Young to start showing leadership.
Federal leaders should approve these plans quickly, but none of us can stop there. More work remains to be done to ensure public employees are protected from predatory behavior, whether they work in Washington D.C. or Des Moines.
Americans should recognize these measures will not eradicate bad behavior by our politicians. Rather, they are truly the least we can do.
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