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Bill would extend time for child-molestation victims to sue

Democrats successfully revived legislation that would allow those who have been sexually abused as a child to bring civil actions against their alleged perpetrator years after they have become adults.

The minority tacked on the legislation as an amendment to a bill that creates tougher penalties for those who engage in child prostitution.

A victim of child molestation now has two years after turning 18 – or until the age of 20 – to bring a civil action against the alleged perpetrator.

The amendment, authored by Yuma Democrat Sen. Amanda Aguirre, allows the abused minor to sue for civil damages within 35 years after turning 18.

That is, a minor who suffered sexual abuse can bring a civil suit up until he or she turns 53.

Additionally, the amendment would require a notarized statement from a psychologist saying there is a reasonable basis that the person was sexually abused.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a similar bill, S1292, on Feb. 22. But the measure has languished in the Rules Committee.

Aguirre, that bill’s author, failed to persuade Senate President Bob Burns, who chairs the Rules Committee, to move the bill forward.

Faced with few options, Aguirre decided to offer the language of her bill as an amendment to H2699, which deals with child prostitution.

The Yuma senator was ill during the deliberation on April 1, but her colleagues saw to it that the amendment was successful.

Several Republicans resisted the proposed change to the bill for two reasons: Aguirre was not around to directly answer questions and Rep. Adam Driggs, sponsor of H2699, had relayed to senators he didn’t want to risk the failure of the underlying bill by having the amendment attached to it.

But 18 senators ultimately backed the measure during a roll call vote, including some Republicans who rose to speak against the amendment.

The underlying bill, H2699, would increase penalties for those who pay for sexual acts with minors, and it would rewrite state law to allow defendants to be prosecuted under child prostitution charges even if they argue they had no idea how old the child was.

The debate on the Aguirre amendment inevitably touched on the sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church.

“When we were hearing this bill in committee, there was a derogatory reference to the Catholic Church. What’s the real agenda here?” asked Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican from Chandler.

Huppenthal said the Catholic Church is susceptible to such lawsuits because of its financial structure.

But he said the issues involved are quite technical and the proposed policy change needed more hearing in committee than what it would get in a floor debate.

He also cited studies showing that so-called recovered memories can be manufactured.

But Sen. Linda Lopez, a Democrat from Tucson, said the protection of children should be the primary consideration.

“This isn’t about the church or any other organization,” she said. “This is about the victims of child rape.”

Sen. Ken Cheuvront, a Democrat from Phoenix, said it takes years before someone who was abused as a child to able to deal with what happened and to find the courage to bring action against the perpetrator – just as what’s happening in the country has shown.

Last month, Democrats blasted Burns for holding S1292 in the Rules Committee. Aguirre said she’s very disappointed that Burns chose not to move it forward despite her pleas.

Aguirre said Burns had voiced concerns raised by the insurance industry against the bill.

Asked to respond to the criticism, Burns said he has concerns about “repressed memory,” that is, the reliability of memory after a very long time.

“Years passed without a complaint and all of a sudden there is a complaint,” Burns said, adding there’s an insurance issue, too.

“The money that they have to set aside for potential future lawsuits-when you make that open-ended, how do you estimate and cover that?” he said.

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(Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)

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