The Supreme Court recently held that “the Constitution permits government agencies to pay the cost of complying with a request from a plaintiff.”
In response to the court’s decision, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have introduced a bill that would force federal agencies to disclose the actual cost of doing their jobs, but not the amount paid.
The legislation, known as the Fairness in Government Act, is also opposed by unions and civil liberties groups.
It has a broad mandate: to require the government to disclose all payments to the plaintiffs in civil cases that are filed with federal agencies, including settlements and payments made to plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The House bill, authored by Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.), would prohibit the government from making the payment without providing a justification.
The bill is also intended to prevent the federal government from paying a settlement amount that is lower than what a plaintiff can recover if they are successful in bringing their claim.
If it passes, the Fair Pay Act would become law.
“We’re hoping to get it to the floor in a couple of weeks,” said Representative Jim Himes (D) of Connecticut, who has introduced a similar bill, The Fair Pay for America Act.
“It’s very difficult to see how this bill, if passed, will actually protect workers.”
In a blog post on the committee’s website, Lewis said the bill’s proposed requirement that the government pay a “fair amount” to the victims is a “silly proposal” that is “based on a flawed interpretation of the law.”
Lewis added that it is “not clear” whether Congress intended to make this payment a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.
“But the bill is meant to prevent courts from allowing a government agency to continue to pay a settlement payment to plaintiffs even if it is unsuccessful in the lawsuit,” he wrote.
The Fairness In Government Act was introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D), the committee chairman, last month and was co-sponsored by the House Democrats’ leadership.
A companion bill introduced by McGovern’s committee would require federal agencies “to disclose any payment made to a plaintiff, and not only to that plaintiff’s attorneys,” the Associated Press reported.
This is “a serious problem for those who are victims of government harassment,” said Himes.
“If the bill passes, that will put us on the same path as many other states, where the federal agencies are able to avoid paying their fair share of civil litigation.”
The Fair Justice for America bill, introduced by Representatives James Clyburn (D–S.C.) and Ted Lieu (D—Calif.), would prevent the government’s payment of settlements.
The Justice for All Act, introduced in January by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D)—N.Y., and co-signed by six other members of Congress, would require agencies to release information to Congress on payments made by their contractors.
The Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment on this article.