The Louisiana House unanimously approved a bill last week that would no longer allow the state to prevent victims of sexual harassment or assault from speaking publicly about their case when it’s settled with taxpayer dollars.
"My intent in bringing the bill was to allow a victim, if they want to talk about the facts of the case to be able to talk about the facts of the case," said Representative Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge).
Representative Foil's bill would strip the state of the right to have the victim sign a non-disclosure agreement when the settlement is funded with public dollars.
Most notably, an NDA was part of the settlement in a sexual harassment case against former Secretary of State Tom Schedler.
“When you have situations like this and you’re using these public dollars," said Franklin, "for transparency purposes if nothing else if the victim wants to share this information the public should have a right to know.”
But Louisiana Senator John Kennedy is urging the Legislature to address what he calls a loophole.
Senator Kennedy says the bill would still allow the state to block the victim from making disparaging or critical remarks about the accused state employee.
In a recent statement, Kennedy said by making room for non-disparagement clauses, "we encourage violators who cover up their sins and pay their victims with taxpayer money.”
Representative Foil says he’s open to working on the bill, but believes the current language protects victims.
“I’m not trying to encourage non-disparagement clauses, just the opposite with this bill.”
A non-disparagement clause was included in the settlement involving Johnny Anderson, a former deputy chief of staff to Governor John Bel Edwards. Anderson resigned in 2017 after being accused of sexual harassment by a state employee.
The bill has the support of Governor Edwards.
"It is an improvement over the status quo, and therefore I’m inclined to sign it," said Edwards.
A 2018 report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor shows the state spent over $5 million settling sexual harassment lawsuits between 2010 and 2018. The bill will be heard next in a Senate Judiciary committee.