Bill requiring federal lawsuit transparency passes Senate

A bill co-sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) passed in the Senate Monday which requires the disclosure of details about monetary settlements between federal agencies and private parties in which the dollar amount is no less than $1 million.

Under current law, only the agreed upon settlement’s dollar amount is required to be disclosed to the public. Popular stipulations such as tax and incentivized credits do not have to be revealed, as well as legal fees charged to the federal government.

According to Sen. Warren and the Boston Herald, the Truth in Settlements Act of 2015, forces federal agencies to disclose rudimentary information about any settlement they are involved with online, and must disclose how payments are categorized for tax purposes.

A 2013 settlement between the government and 13 mortgage service companies, for example, resulted in $8.5 billion in federal fines, but $5.2 billion of that amount was redeemable in “credits” for making good on loans that were issued to individual home-owners before foreclosing on those homes using allegedly illegal tactics.

Sen. Warren claims the Settlements Act “will shutdown backroom deal-making and ensure that Congress, citizens and watchdog groups can hold regulatory agencies accountable for strong and effective enforcement that benefits the public interest.”

Sen. Lankford inferred that the bill will also promote more fiscal responsibility at the national level, as transparency requirements also apply to “settlements that result in new federal regulations, especially when taxpayers are forced to pay the cost for reimbursing legal fees for private parties that sue the government.”

The Truth in Settlements Act now heads to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation is already in queue.

House conservatives should be feeling confident after successfully oustering Speaker John Boehner this week, and passing a common sense “left-right” coalition bill would be an encouraging way to start the post-Boehner era in Congress.

 

[The Boston Herald] [The Oklahoman] [Photo courtesy Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]