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Beall tries again on bills for sex abuse victims

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 at 1:39 pm in California State Senate, Jim Beall.

A South Bay lawmaker is taking another stab at legislation to allow more time for child-molestation prosecutions and civil lawsuits, after the governor vetoed his last effort.

Jim Beall“California must not allow sex abusers to turn the law on its head so they can continue to molest children,” state Sen. Jim Beall said in a news release Wednesday. “Changing both the criminal and civil statutes of limitations will give victims more time to report crimes and allow the justice system to get child molesters off the streets.”

Beall, D-San Jose, said medical research has found trauma inflicted on childhood sex abuse victims can result in memory loss and severely affect their ability to report the crime to authorities. “But the law fails to recognize pedophiles are using that psychological harm to help them hide from justice,” he said. “We can’t allow this injustice to continue.”

Beall’s new SB 926 would reform the criminal statute of limitations by raising the age at which an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse can seek prosecution from 28 to 40 years. The bill would affect sex crimes against children including lewd and lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, and other offenses.

And SB 924 would reform the two standards that now govern the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits. It would increase the age deadline – the age by which the victim must make a causal connection to his or her trauma – from 26 years old to 40. And it would increase the time in which to sue after discovering the link between a psychological injury and childhood sexual abuse from three years to five, starting from when a physician or psychologist first informs the victim of the link.

Both laws are co-authored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach.

Beall last year carried SB 131, which would have applied retroactively to a small number of adult survivors of abuse, letting them sue the organizations that harbored their abusers. The bill was passed by the Assembly on a 44-15 vote and by the state Senate on a 21-8 vote, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it.

In an unusually lengthy veto message, Brown wrote “there comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits,” given that evidence can be lost, memories can fade and witnesses can become unavailable over time. “This extraordinary extension of the statute of limitations, which legislators chose not to apply to public institutions, is simply too open-ended and unfair.”

Beall noted his new bills apply to both to public and private entities and will be applied starting Jan. 1, not retroactively, if they become law.

He had bitterly criticized Brown for vetoing last year’s bill, calling the governor’s “policy paper” on the importance of statutes of limitations a step backward for the state and a smack in the face for victims. “Saturday was a sad day for sexual abuse victims who clearly got the message that the governor is not on their side,” Beall said at the time.

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