SACRAMENTO — Some victims of childhood sexual abuse would have one more year to file civil lawsuits against private or nonprofit organizations that protected their alleged abusers under a bill that passed a key legislative committee Wednesday.
The bill already passed the Senate and is similar — although narrower in scope — to a 2002 bill that passed during the height of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal and briefly allowed sex abuse victims to file lawsuits after the statute of limitations had expired.
SB131 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, heads to the full Assembly after passing the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a 12-4 vote.
It would lift the statute of limitations for one year for a group of alleged victims who were 26 and older and missed the previous window to file lawsuits.
Beall introduced the legislation after hearing from people who said they had been victims of sexual abuse as children and had been unable to seek restitution.
The National Center for Victims of Crime, which sponsored the bill, and other supporters say victims might take years to acknowledge that they were molested.
The Catholic Church has vigorously lobbied against the measure. In Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose Gomez used the church newsletter to urge local Catholics to contact their legislators
Representatives of the church and other institutions, including private schools and the State Alliance of YMCA, say it unfairly applies only to private groups. Those who may have been abused by a public school employee are not covered by the bill.
“It discriminates against victims of child sexual abuse,” Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said in a statement. “It discriminates against private and non-profit organizations like the church. It continues to protect public schools and government workers from lawsuits filed by victims and it even prevents victims from suing their actual abuser.”
Changes approved by the Legislature in 2009 increased the statute of limitations for filing childhood abuseclaims against public entities. An alleged victim currently can file a lawsuit until they are 26 years old, regardless of whether their alleged abuser worked for a public or a private organization.
The previous window for older victims to file claims also did not include schools and other public entities. Allowing claims against public entities would have been more difficult, requiring changes to another section of state law and increasing the bill’s cost, according to Beall’s office.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement praising the committee’s action and calling on the Legislature to give final approval to the bill.
“Lawmakers can make it easier or harder for crime victims to expose predators,” Clohessy said. “These lawmakers are making it easier.”