Arizona Legislature OKs ban on harassment secrecy pacts

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PHOENIX (AP) -

The Arizona Legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a proposal 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 bars non-disclosure agreements for public officials who use state cash to settle sexual misconduct complaints. It passed the House on a 59-0 vote Wednesday after earlier unanimous Senate approval and now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey for consideration.

[RELATED: Arizona House approves ban on harassment secrecy pacts]

Syms said her proposal closes a "sexual predator loophole" forcing victims to remain silent as perpetrators avoid prosecution. She also said it ensures public officials can't use public funding to secretly settle harassment cases.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Politics]

"It closes the sexual predator loophole that has allowed so many of these people to continue to prey upon people," she told House members during the vote. "We don't want people to be able to hide behind non-disclosure agreements and continue like the Weinsteins and the Nassars of the world abusing people. This is a great step for victim's rights."

Syms was referencing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, whose sexual misconduct scandal triggered the nationwide #MeToo movement addressing predatory sexual behavior and workplace harassment, and Larry Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics national team doctor now in prison for molesting women and girls and for possessing child pornography.

The action came nearly three months after the House expelled GOP Rep. Don Shooter following sexual harassment allegations made by multiple women. He was not the subject of a claim or lawsuit.

[READ MORE: Powerful lawmaker accused of sexual harassment at AZ State Capitol]

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.

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