IN Focus: Messer, Rokita, Banks fighting to end harassment payouts

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WASHINGTON D.C.– Amid growing allegations on Capitol Hill, the House moved legislation Wednesday to require sexual harassment training for all its members and staff.

The vote comes amid a wave of accusations against lawmakers that has thrust the issue of gender hostility and discrimination on Capitol Hill squarely into the spotlight, and prompted calls for the embattled lawmakers to step down.

The measure would require lawmakers, their staffs and interns “to complete a program of training in workplace rights and responsibilities each session of each Congress” that includes anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training.

The Senate unanimously adopted a similar measure earlier this month.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said he and his staff have already undergone training.

“I’ve mandated that every member of my staff in my Washington D.C. offices and my district office back in Indiana also take these courses so we can better identify cases of sexual harassment and prevent them as well in our office,” Banks said.

Other bills are also being written that would prohibit taxpayer dollars from going toward settlement agreements alongside prohibiting and releasing staff members from signing non-disclosure agreements.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) is helping write that legislation, with Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) working on a similar proposal.

“We need to release these victims from these non-disclosure agreements so they’re empowered to tell their story,” Messer said. “And we need to stop the use of any taxpayer dollars to pay these claims.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the House, is under fire after a news website published a report detailing a settlement with a staffer who said Conyers sexually harassed her, then fired her after she rebuffed his advances. A second former staffer has come forward with more claims of inappropriate behavior.

“Americans are sick and tired of the special treatment given to members of Congress,” Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) said in a statement, who is also working on the legislation.  “This legislation will help get justice for victims, and prevent taxpayer dollars from being used as hush money to protect the careers of politicians faced with allegations of sexual harassment. When it comes to draining the swamp, this is a great place to start.”

Meantime, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) returned to Capitol Hill this week amid allegations he has inappropriately touched several women. His allegations will be heard before the Senate Ethics Committee.

“I support that 100 percent,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”

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