The bill would raise the age limit for filing civil suits against alleged sexual abusers from 23 to 38. It would also allow victims to sue organizations like the Catholic church or the Boy Scouts to be sued for failing to prevent or report abuse. Civil suits can currently only be filed against alleged abusers.
The bill’s passage would also open a year-long window, beginning in July 2020, during which adult victims of child sexual abuse up to age 50 could sue alleged abusers and organizations that they say looked the other way. Previous versions of the bill would not have had any age limit during this window.
Currently, victims must file a civil lawsuit by the age of 23. Suits must be filed within two years of realizing the childhood abuse caused some psychological or physical harm. Raising the age limit allows victims more time to reach these realizations. Survivors can often recover repressed memories about childhood abuse later in life, making a wider age range for filing suit important, said University of Georgia School of Law professor Emma Hetherington in a hearing on the bill last week.
The Georgia Catholic Conference, Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia all voiced opposition to the bill at Wednesday's hearing, saying it opened the door for churches and governments to being financially liable for acts committed decades in the past by people who may already be dead. The Boy Scouts of America opposed the 2018 version of the bill.
The bill has been tweaked with multiple compromises, including lowering the age limit for filing a lawsuit from 52 to 38 and further specifying who can be sued as an individual who should’ve reported but didn’t. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said that while no side is completely satisfied, the legislation would still make a meaningful difference for abuse survivors.
“My intention is to pass something that would allow justice to be served, that would have teeth in it, but not to have unintended consequences for people that aren’t necessarily involved,” Clark said. “I’ve learned over the years that if you’re making no one happy, it’s probably a good piece of legislation.”
To have a chance of becoming law this year, the bill would have to be passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday; that’s Crossover Day, the deadline for a bill to pass at least one legislative chamber in order to remain alive in the legislative session.
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