Legislature takes steps to ban non-disclosure agreements

Primary focus is on sex harassment cases where public funds are paid to victims

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, expressed reservations over HB 2020, saying people who sign a non-disclosure agreement would essentially be allowed to violate that settlement and keep the money. (Courier file)

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, expressed reservations over HB 2020, saying people who sign a non-disclosure agreement would essentially be allowed to violate that settlement and keep the money. (Courier file)

PHOENIX — State lawmakers took the first steps this week to keep those accused of sex crimes or harassment from buying silence from their victims.

But not in all cases.

As approved by the House Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on Wednesday, HB 2020 would make “non-disclosure agreements” unenforceable in cases where public dollars are used to pay off the victim. The legislation also would make such agreements legally void when a victim of a sex crime is approached by police.

The legislation, which now goes to the full House, actually is not as sweeping as originally proposed by Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley.

She had sought to outlaw all non-disclosure agreements.

That, however, ran into opposition amid concerns that there may be victims who want their identities shielded from public view and are willing to sign such pacts in exchange for a financial settlement. Syms said she did not want to interfere with the freedom of people to enter into contracts.

But when public dollars are involved, she said, that’s a different matter.

“If you want to settle the case with your own private dollars, that’s just fine,” Syms said. “But with public dollars there needs to be transparency and public disclosure.”

Syms acknowledged she knows of no cases in the state where tax dollars have been used to settle such cases.

Despite the unanimous approval, the measure drew some concern from Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, over the provision allowing a victim to effectively ignore the non-disclosure agreement when police are involved.

That would mean not only providing evidence in a case involving them but also testifying against someone being sentenced in another unrelated case.

“I do have some reservations about people taking money to settle a civil suit and then being able to essentially violate the intent of that settlement and keep the money,” he said.