Thursday, November 30, 2017

Legislation Promised to Release Accusers from Privacy Agreements

Washington, D.C. - November 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- House Representative Luke Messer (R-IA, 6th) has promised that he will introduce legislation to help protect victims of sexual assault and harassment in Congress.

Messer’s bill would ensure victims aren’t silenced by non-disclosure agreements, and prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims with members of Congress.

“It’s not OK that taxpayer money is used to silence victims of sexual harassment,” Messer said. “If these victims want to tell their story, they should be empowered to do so.”

This effort by Messer follows recent reports that John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI, 13th) settled a sexual harassment complaint with a former staff member using taxpayer dollars. The Washington Post reports that the government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money over the last 20 years to settle sexual harassment claims and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.

Messer’s bill would release Congressional staff from current non-disclosure agreements signed as part of a sexual assault settlement with a Member of Congress, and prohibit non-disclosure agreements like this in the future. It would also prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims by a member of Congress or employee of the House or Senate.

Messer also supports the bipartisan Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, which would make sexual harassment training mandatory for all members and staff.

Upon the allegations against John Conyers, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal called for Conyers to resign, saying, “The actions and subsequent deflections from the growing tide of sexual harassment cases in Congress not only hurt individual women, but they undermine our institution of democracy. For justice to be done in cases with substantial evidence, a simple denial is not sufficient; the relinquishment of power becomes essential. It is not easy for me to reach this conclusion because, as a civil rights activist, I have looked up to Rep. Conyers for decades. I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion – Mr. Conyers must resign.”

Representative Kathleen Rice (D-NY, 4th) has called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI, 1st) to intervene in the case of a former employee who accused Rep. John Conyers, Jr. of unwanted sexual advances, and release her from the confidentiality agreement that she was forced to sign as part of a settlement. In a letter sent to Ryan Rice wrote:

“Under the settlement, the complainant was forced into a non-disclosure agreement and has been unable to openly discuss the workplace harassment and abuse she was subjected to, while Rep. Conyers and his attorney, Arnold Reed, have been free to make their case to the public. Three additional women (Maria Reddick, Melanie Sloan, and Deanna Maher) have been able to speak publicly about harassment by Rep. Conyers because they chose not to pursue a complaint through a system that is now universally acknowledged to be stacked against the victim.

“The accuser who attempted to seek help through a deeply flawed system should not continue to be silenced by the institution that failed to protect her in the first place.”

See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site

Legislation Introduced Prohibiting Public Funds to be Used in Sexual Harassment Settlements by Members of Congress

Washington, D.C. - November 29, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- On Tuesday, Congressman Tom Marino (PA-10), introduced H.R. 4458, legislation to ensure that taxpayer funds cannot be used to pay settlements resulting from sexual harassment by a Member of Congress. The bill also requires that the Ethics Committee consider the expulsion of a Congressman or Senator if they commit an act of sexual harassment.

Congressman Marino said the following regarding the introduction of this bill:

“Any form of sexual harassment in the workplace in completely unacceptable and Members of Congress should not be held to a different standard. As more information comes out regarding the secretive process for harassment complaints, it is clear that major changes need to be made.

It is unconscionable that Congressman and Senators have taxpayers foot the bill for their disgusting actions. My bill also requires the Ethics Committee to consider expulsion for any Member of Congress who commits an act of sexual harassment. There must be a serious review to determine whether someone is fit to serve in Congress based on the allegations.

My legislation takes a small, but important step, by ensuring that no taxpayer money can be used to settle harassment claims. This is a serious problem, and Congress must act.”

In the wake of media reporting on millions of dollars paid for more than 250 settlements to federal employees, Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick has called for an investigation into the matter.

Fitzpatrick’s call for an investigation followed the Washington Post’s reporting that Congress has made 264 settlements with Capitol Hill employees for various infractions, including sexual harassment. The newspaper said the settlements totaled $17 million over 20 years.

In a statement the congressman said:

“It’s unbelievable – and unacceptable – that elected officials have been using taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual harassment suits for years. As if the American people needed another example of politicians playing by a different set of rules, this is an affront to the hardworking taxpayers forced to foot the bill for these heinous actions. I’m calling on the House Ethics Committee to fully investigate this misuse of taxpayer funds and will work with any member of Congress to prevent this type of abuse. Moreover, this Congress must stand with the victims of this harassment and take swift action to root out those who would sexually harass any other person, regardless of position or title.”

The investigation the congressman is calling for would be handled by the House Committee on Ethics, which enforces standards of ethics and behaviors. The bipartisan committee can forward suggestions on actions that can be taken against members of congress if they are found to have violated standards.

Since the Washington Post’s reporting on the settlements, BuzzFeed News broke the story that Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan settled a complaint using funds from his office budget in 2015. The former employee said she lost her job after not falling for his sexual advances.

Despite calls for a list of settlements to be released, officials have not provided that information.

Fitzpatrick’s office noted that the first-term legislator is a co-sponsor of the Me Too Congress Act that would “set definitive criteria to address sexual harassment in all national legislative branch offices.”

On Wednesday, Congressman Todd Rokita released the following statement after working with Congressman Ron DeSantis (FL-6) to write bipartisan legislation to help ensure justice for victims of sexual harassment and put an end to taxpayers footing the bill to cover up allegations against members of Congress:

“Americans are sick and tired of the special treatment given to members of Congress," said Congressman Rokita. “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.”

The Rokita-DeSantis Legislation does the following:

· Prohibits the use of public funds to pay settlements or awards for sexual harassment or assault claims

· Discloses all payments previously made by the Office of Compliance on its website (the name of the victim is expressly prohibited from being disclosed)

· Requires perpetrators to reimburse the taxpayers with interest

· Prohibits non disclosure agreements as a precondition to initiate procedures to address sexual harassment or assault claims

· Permits victims of sexual harassment or assault to make public statements about their claim, regardless of any previously signed non disclosure agreement

See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site

FBI Failure to Notify of Cyber Attacks Warrants Investigation

Washington, D.C. - November 29, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray requesting that he brief Congress on the FBI’s notification policy regarding cyberattacks against current and former U.S. government officials. The letter follows reports that the FBI, despite knowing about the threat, did not notify potential U.S. targets that their personal Gmail accounts could be vulnerable to Russian hacking.

In the letter, Mr. Lieu writes:

“As a computer science major and Member on the House Judiciary Committee, I have been deeply concerned about the breadth and complexity of the cybersecurity threats facing our nation. These threats often outpace our ability to track them, let alone combat them. However, given the FBI’s mission of protecting the United States from the malign efforts of “foreign intelligence and espionage” and “cyber-based attacks," the FBI’s response to this advanced persistent threat appears to have been deficient and demands further attention.

Failing to notify current or former U.S. officials of known cyber attacks hampers their ability to assess and mitigate damage. Threat actors can often glean useful data from private email accounts that is then used to conduct further attacks."


See more headlines at The Ponder News Web Site

Uber Suffers Data Breach

Recent reports have indicated that Uber Technologies Inc. suffered a data breach involving the personal information of 57 million customers, including names, email addresses, and mobile phone numbers. Uber failed to disclose the breach promptly.

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), John Thune (R-SD), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) are seeking answers. They recently wrote the company. “The company maintains that its outside forensic experts have not seen any indication that customer trip location history, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, or dates of birth were downloaded. Nevertheless, the nature of the information currently acknowledged to have been compromised, together with the allegation that the company concealed the breach without notifying affected drivers and consumers, and prior privacy concerns at Uber, makes this a serious incident that merits further scrutiny,” stated the senators in the letter.

Senator Bill Cassidy is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy, which has jurisdiction over the protection of social security numbers and programs that are often targeted by identity thieves.