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June 18, 2018 Santiago, Chile
On January 23, 1995, President Bill Clinton signed into law a piece of legislation that had been almost unanimously approved by both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.
It was called the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995-- CAA.
The idea behind the CAA was to force Congress to abide by the same rules of workplace health and safety that private companies have to follow.
And one notable example was sexual harassment; until the CAA was passed, sexual harassment rules didn’t really apply to Congress.
Here’s where it gets crazy, though: the CAA established an agency called the Office of Compliance to adjudicate various workplace complaints.
And the law further directed the Treasury Department to allocate taxpayer funds to pay claims and damages resulting from such workplace complaints.
In other words, for nearly a quarter of a century, taxpayers have been footing the bill to settle monetary damages every time a member of Congress was caught groping an intern.
What’s more, section 416 of the CAA requires that all mediation, hearings, and deliberation in sexual harassment claims (or any other workplace complaint) be kept strictly confidential, i.e. NOT disclosed to the public.
Plus a lot of the settlements come with strings attached. In one case of sexual harassment against former Congressman John Conyers, the legal settlement required the complainant to sign an agreement with strict non-disparagement clauses:
“Complainant agrees that she will not disseminate or publish, or cause anyone else to disseminate or publish, in any manner, disparaging or defamatory remarks or comments adverse to the interests of Representative John Conyers...”
They’re finally in the midst of passing a law to change this.
There’s a new bill that was recently introduced in the Senate called the CAA Reform Act which aims to heavily revise the original 1995 bill.
Among other provisions, section 111 of the CAA Reform Act will require members of Congress to pay their own damn legal settlements… so they’ll no longer be able to grope interns on the taxpayers' dime.
It’s amazing that this was actually the law of the land for more than two decades.
The United States fancies itself as having the most advanced republican democracy in the world. But this is banana republic stuff, plain and simple.