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House members can now spend taxpayer funds on bulletproof vests

The last rays of sunlight fall on the dome of the U.S. Capitol on a recent afternoon in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A House panel on Tuesday voted to expand the range of permissible uses of public funds for lawmakers’ security — making clear, among other things, that members can be reimbursed by taxpayers if they purchase bulletproof vests for themselves.

The Committee on House Administration approved several changes to the official members’ handbook in a brief meeting. One resolution codified security-related changes that have been considered in recent months following attacks and threats aimed at lawmakers, including the June shooting at a Republican baseball practice that seriously wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

The changes, approved on a voice vote, allow congressional offices to use unspent funds from the prior year for security expenses at District work spaces. They clarify that members may hire security personnel as an “ordinary and necessary reimbursable expense” to guard the member and staff when they are on official business in the District. They also clarify that capital improvements such as bulletproof glass are not directly reimbursable but that a landlord is free to pass on the costs in the form of increased rent.

The updated rules also spell out, “The purchase of a bulletproof vest for the Member is a reimbursable expense.”

In other business Tuesday, the panel made clear that members may not use their taxpayer-funded representational accounts to pay any sort of settlement or award in conjunction with a workplace-misconduct claim. The resolution accompanies a package of rules changes that passed the House this month aimed at clarifying the scope of proper behavior for members and staff, as well as improving the process for handling sexual-harassment claims in Congress.

Two lawmakers — Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who resigned in December, and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), who is not seeking reelection — stand accused of using their office accounts to pay former staffers who made misconduct claims against them.