March 29, 2018 - Atlanta, Ga: Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, listens to discussion of House Bill 605 during Legislative Day 40 in the Senate Chamber at the Georgia State Capitol Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Atlanta. Sen. Kirk is the senate sponsor of the bill, known as the hidden predator bill. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

Georgia lawmakers don’t give sex abuse survivors more time to sue

Georgia lawmakers endured hours of grueling testimony and debate about predator pedophiles during this legislative session, but in the end they couldn’t agree on a law that would have let more adult survivors of child sex abuse file lawsuits.

The Hidden Predator Act would have extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits to age 38 from the current 23. It also would have opened a one-year window during which adults of any age could have sued both those they say molested them and organizations that covered it up.

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a version of the bill in February —House Bill 605 by Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine — that led members of the Senate to worry about an avalanche of lawsuits against youth organizations.

The Boy Scouts lobbied hard against the House version, saying it failed to protect the due process rights of organizations. Critics raised the specter of youth organizations bankrupted by having to hire hire lawyers to defend themselves from decades-old accusations with scant evidence.

So on Thursday, the final day of this year’s legislative session, the Senate voted unanimously for an amended version that ratcheted down that threat, outraging victims and their families.

“I hate I worked that hard and here we are,” said Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, as the clock was running out. While presenting it on the Senate floor, the licensed professional counselor had shared anecdotes about two clients, a “man’s man” and a “big, strong tough guy,” who only opened up later in life about molestation that had driven them to dysfunctional behavior.

“It’s a very under-reported crime,” Kirk had said.

Over in the House, Spencer tried to assemble a conference committee to negotiate a compromise. It came too late to the Senate, where, after 11 p.m., attempts to move back the deadline failed.

The bill died as the session ended at midnight.

Spencer said his opponents “slow walked” the bill, exploiting the chaos of the legislative session to kill it. “They knew how to play the game,” he said. The state will continue to be one of the worst in the nation for adult survivors of child sex abuse, he said, as well as a hub for child sex trafficking.

“This is not a proud moment for Georgia.”

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