State senators delay vote on statute of limitations for sex abuse
DENVER – State senators began debate Tuesday on whether to get rid of limits on filing lawsuits over the sexual abuse of children, legislation that has been opposed by the Roman Catholic Church in Colorado.Senators gave initial backing to giving alleged victims until they turn 53 to file lawsuits from now on. That’s because dozens of victims have told lawmakers they didn’t have the courage to come public until they were in their 40s and 50s.But lawmakers still haven’t decided what to do about the most controversial part of the legislation – whether to change the law and allow people to go back and sue over old cases.The Senate was set to discuss that later in the afternoon but because the vote is expected to be close, debate was delayed because one bill supporter was excused for part of the afternoon and another wouldn’t have been able to stay late. None of the changes they backed will be official until they conclude debate.Under one of the original proposals from Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald (Senate Bill 143), victims would have been able to file a lawsuit no matter how old the claims were, even if the alleged abuser was dead. Changes to a related bill (House Bill 1090) have now barred suing a dead person and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald said she planned to ask that her bill be changed to only allow those who were abused after 1971 – 35 years ago – to file lawsuits.Fitz-Gerald said that wouldn’t help some of the men who have filed lawsuits alleging they were abused by former Denver priest Harold Robert White. They allege they were abused during the 1960s and 1970s. But she said some lawmakers wouldn’t support the bill unless there were limits placed on how far back the suits can go.”It’s a window that doesn’t exist right now that allows us to know who the perpetrators are,” she said.Fitz-Gerald said the 35-year window backward would allow victims to sue both public and private institutions. But she opposes opening up government institutions to federal lawsuits for old abuse cases. Unlike state cases, those suits don’t have any caps on damages and can’t be brought against private institution.Tim Dore, a lobbyist for the Colorado Catholic Conference, said the bills still treated private institutions unfairly. He said private institutions could be forced to pay out more money that public institutions under the lawsuits.”They continue to make every move they can away from equity and fairness,” he said.The maximum a public institution, such as a school, would have to pay is $150,000 in a lawsuit brought by one person or $600,000 for a group – the same limits that apply to other areas where people are allowed to sue state government. A private institution could have to pay out between $366,000 and $732,000.Fitz-Gerald said she supported limiting damages at $150,000 plus doctor’s expenses for old cases brought against private institutions. Dore said he couldn’t comment on any proposed changes that haven’t happened yet.Under current law, victims of sexual abuse have until 24 – six years after turning 18 – to sue their alleged abuser and until 20 – two years after becoming an adult – to file lawsuits against institutions they believe were liable for the abuse.
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