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California measure to extend statute of limitations for sex abuse victims fails in committee

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 - 8:35 am

A bill to extend the statute of limitations for some sex abuse victims fell three votes short in an Assembly committee Wednesday amid fierce lobbying, including more than $250,000 from an umbrella organization of the California Catholic Council.

Senate Bill 131 by San Jose Democrat Jim Beall would open a one-year window for victims excluded from a 2003 law that extended the time during which sexual abuse victims can file a civil lawsuit.

The measure is sponsored by the National Center for Victims of Crime and supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and the Consumer Attorneys of California.

Opponents have argued that the bill unfairly targets the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts in order to create a revenue machine for lawyers.

"If the bill loses, the molester protectors win," Beall said after it failed 6-4 along party lines in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Beall was granted reconsideration next week. Seven Assembly members did not vote, including six Democrats.

The newly created California Council of Nonprofit Organizations poured $258,000 into fighting the bill in the first six months of this year. The California Council, an umbrella organization of the California Catholic Conference, hired five lobbying firms, including heavyweight Lang Hansen O'Malley and Miller Governmental Relations.

The California Council called SB 131 "a trial lawyer-sponsored measure that discriminates against victims, discriminates against private employers and actually gives civil immunity from prosecution to the actual perpetrators of child sex abuse."

Other opponents include the California Association of Private School Organizations and the California State Alliance of YMCA.

Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, said the bill would create "two classes of victims and two classes of justice," adding that it applied only to people who suffered abuse in a private setting, like a private school or private campground.

"If you are like most people and went to public school or public day care, there is nothing in here for you. Nothing," Eckery said.

Supporters say the previous one-year lift on the statute of limitations unfairly excluded people who were over the age of 26 in 2003 who suffered childhood sexual abuse.

Beall said his bill allows that "small group of people to seek justice in civil court."

"It doesn't convict anyone," he said. "It allows them to go to court and prove their case."

Beall said he remains hopeful that he can get three more votes to move his bill along. Beall, who attended Catholic schools but is not a practicing Catholic, said his bill doesn't take aim at the church, as some contend.

"It goes after any organization that protected a molester and failed to disclose somebody that was molesting somebody," Beall said.

Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @melodygutierrez. The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.

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