Senate gives approval to easing deadline in sex-abuse suits
DENVER – After weeks of negotiations and hours of emotional debate, the state Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a measure allowing more time for filing lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children.Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, a dogged supporter of the legislation, paused as tears welled up in her eyes before announcing the final vote: 18-17.The measure (House Bill 1090) would open a one-year window for people to file suit over alleged abuses dating as far back as 1971. In future cases, people would have until age 53 to file such lawsuits.Under current law, people have until age 20 to sue an institution and age 24 to sue an alleged abuser.The proposal now heads back to the House, which has passed a different version and would have to approve the changes.Approval by Gov. Bill Owens is not assured. Owens spokesman Dan Hopkins said the governor is concerned about extending the deadline, or statute of limitations, in civil suits because they require less proof than criminal cases.Owens signed an earlier measure removing the statute of limitations on child sex-abuse in criminal cases.Fitz-Gerald, who worked to get elements of her related proposal (Senate Bill 143) included in House Bill 1090, said the current system doesn’t give victims enough time to come to terms with their abuse and take action. She also said that allowing some old cases to move forward would make public the names of alleged abusers and make sure they weren’t allowed near children.”The documentation is there. It’s just not in the public light,” she said.Fitz-Gerald’s stance put her in direct opposition to her own Roman Catholic Church, which lobbied against the bill and encouraged parishioners to write lawmakers opposing the bill.The Colorado Catholic Conference believes it may be unconstitutional to revive old lawsuits. It also opposes the fact that private institutions, like the church, would be subject to higher settlement payments. Damages against the state are limited to $150,000 for these cases and a limited number of areas where citizens can sue the state.Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said he didn’t think the lawsuits would help children.”The result is to punish the church today for the crimes of priests who are elderly or dead to provide satisfaction to people who are middle-aged,” he said.Republican Sen. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, unsuccessfully tried to delay a final vote on the proposal because he said lawmakers should ask the Colorado Supreme Court if reviving old cases would be constitutional.
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