California Bill Opening Window for Sex Abuse Suits Passes

September 10, 2013

State legislators have sent Gov. Jerry Brown a hotly debated bill that would open a one-year window of opportunity for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue religious organizations and other private or nonprofit groups that employed their abusers.

Senate Bill 131 passed the state Senate on a 21-8 vote Friday, the Orange County Register reported Sunday. The measure passed the Assembly on Wednesday. Brown now has 30 days to act on it.

The measure by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would lift the statute of limitations for a group of alleged victims who missed previous deadlines for filing lawsuits because of time and age restrictions.

Under the proposed law, victims who were over the age of 26 in 2003 would be able to bring lawsuits next year against their alleged abusers and the entities that employed them. Under current California law, a childhood abuse victim has until age 26 to sue.

“I’m happy for all the victims that needed this to move forward,” Beall said. “Many of them are in their 30s and 40s and they have been waiting a long time to confront their abusers and the people that helped the abusers and have their day in court.”

The National Center for Victims of Crime and other supporters of the measure say such a law is important in preserving the rights of young sex-abuse victims because it can take many of them years to come forward and acknowledge, even to themselves, that they were victimized and the impact that it had on them as adults.

Catholic church leaders and representatives of other organizations in opposition, including private schools and the State Alliance of YMCAs, say the measure is unfair because it does not allow alleged victims to sue public institutions.

Assembly Republicans had previously tried unsuccessfully to include schools, universities and other public institutions in the bill.

“If anyone deserves recovery, if anyone deserves another chance at this, everybody does,” Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, said when the measure passed the Assembly last week.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who presented the bill in the Assembly, said that including public institutions would have required addressing a separate section of state law. She added she would like to see a separate bill to deal with that issue.

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