PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House on Thursday approved legislation allowing victims of sexual misconduct to talk to police or testify in a criminal case even if they signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of a civil settlement.
The proposal from Republican Rep. Maria Syms of Paradise Valley also would bar non-disclosure agreements for public officials that use state cash to settle sexual misconduct complaints. It passed on a 59-0 vote and now goes to the Senate.
Syms says her proposal is a big step toward closing what she calls a “sexual predator loophole” that forces victims to remain silent even as the perpetrator avoids prosecution. She also says it ensures that public officials accused of harassment can’t use public funding to secretly settle cases.
“We’re not going to allow public officials to shield themselves from their misconduct by using public tax dollars,” she said during a Republican caucus meeting on Tuesday. “If they want to dig into their own pockets and settle these claims for nuisance value or whatever they can do that. But when it’s public tax dollars we’re going to have full transparency.”
The action came two weeks after GOP Rep. Don Shooter was expelled following sexual harassment allegations made by multiple women. He was not the subject of a claim or lawsuit.
No settlements involving state lawmakers have been paid by the state in at least a decade, according to records from the Arizona Senate and House. The state has paid $1.9 million in settlements for employee sexual harassment or misconduct claims between 2001 and 2014.
Those settlements may have confidentiality clauses, but they are at least partially negated because current state public records law requires the settlement agreements to be released.