April 07, 2006

Religious Strain on Child Sex Abuse Bill

Jewish Times

Joan Murphy
Special to the Jewish Times

APRIL 07, 2006

A bill to help victims of childhood sexual abuse seemed assured of success when it overwhelmingly passed the House of Delegates last month. Suddenly, though, it has been abandoned in the Senate in a divisive debate that has even assumed religious undertones.

Sponsored by Del. Pauline Menes (D-21st), of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, House Bill 1148 would extend the statute of limitations for childhood abuse victims to file civil actions against their abusers. Today, a child abuse suit may be filed until the claimant is 25 years old, seven years after the legal age of adulthood. This bill would extend the deadline to allow victims up to 42 years old to seek money from alleged abusers.

With the legislative session winding down, every legislative maneuver is critical. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill by a 130-8 margin on March 24, beating the deadline for it to be automatically assigned to a standing Senate committee, the last stop before a vote on the Senate floor. If it had been reported to the Senate any later, it would have had to be sent to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

But in an unusual move, the bill was shoved into the Senate Rules Committee where advocates fear it may languish as the legislature wraps up its session on April 10.

Local Catholic Church officials have been waging a fierce lobbying campaign to kill the bill. They argue that the additional time would allow victims of the abuse to wait too long to seek damages, get counseling and identify their offenders.

Posted by kshaw at April 7, 2006 06:31 AM