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H.R. 995: Settlement Agreement Information Database Act of 2019

Feb 13, 2019 at 4:53 p.m. ET. On Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass, as Amended in the House.

This was a vote to pass H.R. 995 in the House. This vote was taken under a House procedure called “suspension of the rules” which is typically used to pass non-controversial bills. Votes under suspension require a 2/3rds majority. A failed vote under suspension can be taken again.

Should there be a centralized and publicly searchable database of government lawsuit settlements?

Context

More than $4.3 billion in taxpayer money was used to settle lawsuits against the federal government or its employees in fiscal year 2016, through a little-known Treasury Department account known as the Judgment Fund. However, that fund is only tapped by government agencies if the agency in question does not have the requisite funds to pay out a settlement themselves. So while the Judgment Fund's payments are publicly searchable online, many or even most federal government settlements are not. Government-funded settlement agreements have received far more attention in the past two years, as the Me Too movement shined a spotlight on dozens of sexual harassment settlements involving federal workers.

What the bill does

The Settlement Agreement Information Database Act would create a single website where all federal government settlements would be posted publicly and searchable. In cases where a settlement is confidential, the bill would mandate the government also issue a public a statement explaining the nondisclosure. It was introduced on February 6 as bill number H.R. 995 by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL6).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill would increase government openness in a centralized location. "Currently, there is no uniform standard for record keeping across federal agencies," Rep. Palmer said in a press release. "Most of the public's access to federal settlement agreement information is primarily issued by press release. "This lack of transparency frequently leaves the public and elected officials in the dark about costs and outcomes," Rep. Palmer continued. "The SAID Act would provide overdue transparency and accountability standards to federal settlement agreements."

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the bill -- introduced by a Republican and with only Republican cosponsors -- may be primarily a partisan response. President Obama had suggested using the Judgement Fund to compensate health insurers for certain Obamacare payments, after congressional Republicans tried to stop those payments from coming from the Department of Health and Human Services. That being said, the bill passed the House unanimously. (See below.)

Odds of passage

The House passed it unanimously by a 418-0 vote on February 13. It now goes to the Senate. A previous version passed the House in November 2018 by a voice vote, a procedure usually used for uncontroversial legislation meaning no record of individual votes were cast. However, it never received a vote in the Senate.

Totals

All Votes D R
Aye 97%
 
 
418
223
 
195
 
No 0%
 
 
0
0
 
0
 
Not Voting 3%
 
 
13
11
 
2
 

Passed. 2/3 Required. Source: house.gov.

Ideology Vote Chart

Key: D Aye R Aye
Seat position based on our ideology score.

Cartogram Map

Each hexagon represents one congressional district.

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Vote Details

Notes: The Speaker’s Vote? “Aye” or “Yea”?
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Statistically Notable Votes

Statistically notable votes are the votes that are most surprising, or least predictable, given how other members of each voter’s party voted and other factors.

All Votes