State House committee considers bill aimed at requiring sexual harassment settlements in the Legislature be made public

    Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

    A bill that would make some information about settlements regarding sexual harassment in the Legislature available to the public stirred discussion in the House Oversight Committee Thursday.

    House Bill 4920, introduced by House Oversight Committee Chair Steve Johnson (R-Wayland), states that “if a settlement agreement that provides for the payment of money is entered following a claim of sexual assault or sexual harassment committed by a legislator,” the Senate or House must make available the name of the legislator identified in the claim and the amount of the settlement.

    Johnson said he hopes that the bill will be a preventative measure against sexual harassment and assault in the Capitol. 

    “Hopefully by doing this it will stop the problem. Hopefully these people will stop being re-elected, hopefully people will stop offending and we don’t even have to deal with this,” Johnson said. “I think that probably the end intent here is not just to make sure that they’re held accountable, but to make sure that there aren’t future victims as well.”

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    Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos) supports the bill, but says it does not yet do enough to ensure the safety and privacy of the victim. 

    Johnson said the bill “keeps the victim out of it,” but Brixie rebutted, saying that “making something public and keeping something private are two different things in statute.”

    Reps. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) and Stephanie A. Young (D-Detroit) also said the bill could use some strengthening regarding measures to keep the identity of the victims confidential.

    Brixie also said that the bill doesn’t do enough to hold legislators who have sexual harassment or assault allegations against them accountable, because so many of these instances don’t end in settlement agreements, but rather the staffer is transferred to another office.

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    The bill would only make public the names of the legislators if there is a settlement. 

    “We’re talking about taxpayer dollars being spent. If my money is going to be spent to cover up someone else’s impropriety, I should know about that. When someone moves from one office to the other and you can’t prove the reason for it, and I didn’t pay any money for that, it’s a far different story,” Johnson said. “In a perfect world, we could address this situation, but it doesn’t work that way.”

    The bill will be up for a vote in the committee next week.

    Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.