After recent reports the state House paid $248,000 in tax money to settle sexual harassment claims against a 40-year Democratic incumbent, reaction was swift and predictable.

Gov. Wolf said he'd make sure tax dollars aren't used for such settlements again.

Auditor General Gene DePasquale said, "Taxpayer money should never be used" to settle such cases.

And lawmakers quickly proposed prohibiting taxpayer-funded payouts, and banning nondiscloser agreements in sexual harassment cases.


Why should average folk pay for the sins of elected evildoers? Why should such sins be hidden from the public?

Well, because that's the way things work. Unquestioned. Or at least unquestioned before Weinstein, #MeToo,  and journalistic follow-up.

Now we know some things.

We know lawmakers and state workers are covered under an Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program (ELSIP), run by the Department of General Services.

The current annual premium for roughly 80,000 people is $5.75 million, according to an agency spokesman.

We know about that $248K in 2015 for claims against Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D., Berks); and $30K in 2012 to settle a sexual harassment suit against former Rep. Jewell Williams, now Philadelphia's sheriff.

We know of other payouts, including a stunning $900K in 2016 for claims against a mid-level Revenue Department manager; an ugly case with racial elements.

But we don't yet know much about the total 339 sexual harassment claims the AP reports were lodged against state employees over a recent five-year span.

Said Wolf press secretary J.J. Abbott: "Review of settlements is ongoing and we will be providing more detail on those when that is complete."

So, the story is emerging. As is a sense of how dicey the issue is for lawmakers seeking to address it.

Carol Tracy, head of the Women's Law Project, is working with legislators. She says, "The most important part of any legislation is to make sure it's victim-centered. … It's a very murky issue."

For example: Sen. Judy Schwank (D., Berks) proposes ending settlement agreements that don't identify  perpetrators.

Good idea, right? Get abusers' names out there?

But that could be a double-edged sword.

If agreements require identifying harassers, it's likely there'll be fewer settlements. That could lead to protecting abusers because, absent a settlement, some victims might be reluctant to pursue a court case that could be costly and take years.

Same can apply to wider measures.

Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D., Delaware) is on the sixth draft of legislation to create an independent office to investigate claims against lawmakers, make public the names of those found culpable, end tax-dollar payouts – and make lawmakers personally liable for compensation to victims, including, if necessary, with assets from their pensions.

Sound good?

"It's incredibly complex," Krueger-Braneky tells me, "There's no easy answer."

Why? Questions about process, expanding government, and unintended consequences for victims.

Can elected officials be separated from state liability coverage? Would a GOP-run legislature fund a new government office?

Is ending state payouts unfair to victims? Is it realistic to rely on fair compensation from abusers with, say, limited assets; or victim compensation that could be paid only in dribs and drabs over years or decades?

Philadelphia lawyer Deborah Willig, of Willig, Williams & Davidson, has handled lots of harassment cases. She says, "I have very mixed feelings about taxpayer money for settlements. If you take that fund away, you're depriving victims, who often face job loss and psychological issues, of their ability to get damages."

So here we are. Amid a national upheaval over sexual harassment. In an election year with calls for action, tough talk, and elbowing for credit. Part of a process to address an issue that should be addressed.

And maybe just the threat of public outing or personal liability deters would-be harassers. Maybe all the attention helps create cultural change.

I don't know. But I know the path to protecting people from abusers and preventing abuse of tax dollars isn't without complications not so easy to resolve.