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Suzan DelBene wants to make the price of silence steeper

Suzan DelBene. (AP)

It seems like every week we’re hearing about more allegations of sexual misconduct against men in powerful positions, either in recent years or from decades ago.

RELATED: Why sexual misconduct is too often ignored

Now, one of our Washington state Congress members is taking action to help stop the cover-ups.

From, the $100,000 settlement Harvey Weinstein paid Rose McGowan to settle a 1997 hotel room encounter, to the more than $27,000 paid to a former staffer of Congressman John Conyers to settle a wrongful termination issue after she allegedly refused his advances.

It turns out those settlements have been tax deductible since the 1960s, and Congressmember Suzan DelBene says that’s unacceptable.

“It’s really shameful that our tax code allows corporations to deduct settlement payments. And I think it propagates the rampant problem we see of sexual misconduct,” she said.

DelBene introduced a bill to end those tax breaks. The legislation, called Stop Tax Breaks for Sexual Misconduct Act, would eliminate the ability for corporations to deduct damages or settlements paid to victims of sexual misconduct. It would also eliminate the ability to deduct attorneys fees incurred from defending sexual misconduct cases.

DelBene says allowing tax breaks for payouts is making it all too easy for corporations to keep victims quiet.

“It’s coming into sharp focus that too long settlements have been paid by powerful figures to victims of sexual misconduct in exchange for them signing non-disclosure agreements. It’s kept perpetrators’ reputations intact and company’s names out of headlines, and it ends up we have a payment-for-silence system that’s protected predators and this needs to end. Part of what we can do is offer legislation like this that will increase transparency.”

DelBene says her bill is vital to ending the corporate climate that has allowed so much sexual misconduct to be covered up.

“If we want to make sure organizations create an environment and a culture that encourages people to come forward and report abuses, then we need transparency and accountability, not settlements and silence. My bill would make the price of silence steeper for corporations. It would definitely take a step toward incentivizing real solutions to ending sexual misconduct in the workplace, rather than a system that supports sweeping things under the rug.”

DelBene introduced the bill with a couple of co-sponsors on the Ways and Means committee. She is now looking to drum up support in the Senate.

RELATED: A more inclusive image of sexual misconduct

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