Assembly OKs bill to extend statute of limitations on sex abuse


SACRAMENTO — A bill that would give some victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits narrowly passed the Assembly on Wednesday, following emotional appeals from lawmakers and nearly an hour of extended wrangling for votes.

The measure, by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would lift the statute of limitations for one year to enable some abuse victims to sue private or nonprofit employers that failed to protect them from known molesters.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) spoke of her own childhood abuse in advocating the bill.


“We cannot put a timeline on what triggers our ability to deal with an experience we had as a child,” Skinner said, adding that she did not confront her past until her daughter reached the age when Skinner’s abuse started.

The proposal is vehemently opposed by the Catholic Church, along with associations of private schools and nonprofit organizations. Opponents say that by not extending the statute of limitations for victims to sue public entities, the proposal unfairly targets private institutions.

Assemblywoman Diane L. Harkey (R-Dana Point), recalling her childhood steeped in the Catholic Church and parochial schools, said she had “an absolutely marvelous experience. I am so very, very sorry for those who did not. That being said, this is not about one religion.”

“This bill ought to be broad-based. It ought to be about victims. It ought not to be just about reopening wounds and feeding trial attorneys,” Harkey said.

The bill set off a fierce lobbying effort, both inside the Capitol and in church pews throughout the state. Churches and other opponents encouraged their congregations to contact their legislators against the bill.

The jockeying continued on the Assembly floor. The bill originally was three votes short of securing passage. After keeping the vote open for nearly an hour, supporters cobbled together a bare-bones 41-vote majoirty.

“You could on the floor see people almost visibly struggling with the issue,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) in an interview after the vote. “Nobody believes that someone who has perpetrated sexual abuse, especially against a child, should escape accountability for that kind of behavior.”

“Many of them were very torn between that first sense and that second sense of belief in, and loyalty to, institutions that they hold in high regard,” said Dickinson, who spoke in favor of the bill on the floor.

The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.


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