SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Spurred by a string of recent claims against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and former Fox News personalities, a California lawmaker says she will introduce a bill to ban secret settlements in sexual assault and harassment lawsuits.
State Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, says confidentiality clauses allow perpetrators off the hook in exchange for money and that it hides “sexual predators from law enforcement and the public.” The first-term senator says she will introduce the ban on the decades-old practice when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
“Secret settlements in sexual assault and related cases can jeopardize the public – including other potential victims – and allow perpetrators to escape justice just because they have the money to pay the cost of the settlements,” Leyva said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that sexual predators can be held accountable for their actions and ideally prevent them from victimizing others.”
Leyva’s announcement comes as the list of high-profile actresses accusing Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment continues to grow.
A total of 47 women have publicly accused Weinstein of harassment or assault, including Oscar-winning stars Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow. According to an investigation by The New York Times, Weinstein reached at least eight agreements to settle sexual harassment claims.
In April, 21st Century Fox fired popular conservative broadcaster Bill O’Reilly amid reports that it paid $13 million to settle sexual harassment claims against the veteran journalist.
The proposal will be a major priority of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, which Leyva vice-chairs. More than 140 female California lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists released a letter this week describing a culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
“Last week millions of Americans were shocked to learn of the behavior of billionaire mogul Harvey Weinstein. We were not. This same kind of inappropriate, sexually harassing behavior cuts across every industry and facet of our society. No matter a woman’s age, weight, religion, sexual orientation, race, social status or position of power, she is not insulated from this behavior. It is pervasive,” the letter states.
Signatories include six current state lawmakers and Christine Pelosi, chair of the Women’s Caucus of the California Democratic Party and the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. The women say they have been groped, subjected to sexual innuendo and had their jobs threatened by men. The letter does not cite names or specific instances.
“We’re done with this. Each of us who signed this op-ed will no longer tolerate the perpetrators or enablers who do,” the letter states.
Leyva also wrote 2016 legislation that ended the state’s 10-year statute of limitations on rape. Senate Bill 813 was inspired by the sexual assault accusations against comedian Bill Cosby that were unable to be tried because the allegations occurred decades ago.