Ga. Legislature: Child sex abuse bill fails to make it out of subcommittee, again

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Adults who believe they were molested as children could sue later in life under legislation debated by Georgia lawmakers again Wednesday.

The bill that would extend the statute of limitations for adults to file lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that failed to protect them as children.

The sponsor of House Bill 605, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said the law needs to be amended to reflect that many, if not most, victims of child sex abuse do not come forward until they are much older. The bill builds on similar legislation that Spencer got passed three years ago, part of which expired last year.

The Hidden Predator Act of 2015 did three things: allowed individuals up to age 23 to sue alleged perpetrators and entities like private schools, youth organizations and churches; granted individuals who realize they were abused later in life a two-year “discovery” period to sue, but only after receiving new medical or psychological evidence of injury; and opened a two-year window during which an individual of any age could sue their alleged abuser, but not an entity. That window closed on July 1, 2017.

The Hidden Predator Act of 2018 would extend the age for lawsuits to 38. It would also extend the discovery period from two to eight years, and open a one-year window for an individual of any age to sue both alleged perpetrators and — this is new — entities.

For the second time in two weeks, a judiciary subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, took no action on the bill.

Committee member Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth,raised concerns about due process and what he characterized as “loose” language regarding the liability of entities.

Spencer, for his part, said that business interests, youth organizations and religious organizations seem to be quietly lobbying to delay the bill. The hearing was full of lobbyist badges, but the only person to speak out against the bill on record was a tort reform lawyer from Washington D.C.

“They can’t come to the microphone and tell us why you should not be held accountable if your organization knowingly covered up child sex abuse,” Spencer said.

Barbara Hartman, president of Chattahoochee Republican Women, attended both hearings and was frustrated at what she felt was a stalling tactic.

“This is ridiculous that they keep wasting our time like this,” she said after Wednesday’s hearing. She’s spoken to women’s groups about the legislation, and said everyone she’s spoken to about it thinks it should be law.

“Why do they keep tabling it and tabling it and tabling it?”