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A Republican state senator says his GOP colleagues are pushing “a sham” proposal that purports to expand the rights of victims of child sexual abuse, but instead protects the predators and the institutions that enable them.
Boyer, who sponsored sweeping legislation to expand the ability of victims to seek justice in civil court, has said he won’t support a state spending plan until his proposal is given an up-or-down vote by lawmakers.
When the Rules Committee met Monday to consider House Bill 2746, the proposal backed by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, members of the GOP majority said their measure improves victims’ rights over current law.
Efforts by critics, including more than a dozen sexual abuse survivors who spoke out against the bill prior to the committee hearing, to derail the bill will “be a huge setback to every victim in Arizona,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, the sponsor of HB2746.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, did not allow the measure to receive a normal committee hearing, during which lobbyists, lawmakers and members of the public can testify. Instead, he sent the bill to the Rules Committee, which is responsible for ensuring legislation is constitutional before it can be cleared for floor debate.
Rules Committee Chairman Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, would not allow any testimony on HB2746. He said that a two-hour-long hearing on Boyer’s legislation, Senate Bill 1101, in a House committee last month sufficed as public testimony on the new legislation, despite key differences between the proposals.
“We had lots of testimony then, I’m not going to hear testimony now,” he told the committee and the opponents of the bill who had gathered in the small committee room to watch the proceedings and had hoped to testify.
House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, who sits on the committee, voted against allowing the public to testify, citing media coverage of the issue.
“Are we really going to act like and feign that we don’t know all about this bill?” he said. Petersen also took a swipe at the “media spin machine” for mischaracterizing the GOP-backed measure.
All five of the committee’s Republicans voted against allowing testimony on HB2746, while the panel’s three Democrats voted to allow it.
The measure would extend the amount of time a person can file a civil lawsuit until the age of 30. Arizona law currently allows such lawsuits only until a victim turns 20.
It also would allow an alleged victim who is older than 30 to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser, but only if a prosecutor files charges against the suspect.
The bill also does not include a “window” to allow anyone who was the victim of childhood sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit, no matter when the abuse occurred, a core component of Boyer’s original legislation.
Making Arizona ‘a predator magnet’
Victims and victim advocates spoke on the Arizona Senate lawn before the committee hearing to denounce HB2746 as not doing enough for victims, in large part because it does not include that civil litigation window.
Joelle Casteix, who was sexually abused by her Catholic high school’s choir director and who now advocates for other victims, said the litigation window is essential to exposing and stopping people who are still victimizing children.
“It is time to expose the predators who are still in our churches and schools,” she said.
Because the GOP-backed legislation does not include a window for civil litigation, Casteix said the legislation will make Arizona “not only predator-friendly, but a predator magnet.” She added that each of the survivors who spoke at the press conference, including herself, came forward after the age of 30, meaning HB2746 would not allow any of them to seek justice.
Gilbert resident Gregory Kelly, who was abused by former Judge William Bradley when he was 11 and kept it a secret for 30 years, was among those who spoke against Shope’s bill.
When Kelly was finally able to face Bradley and tried to bring a suit against him, he found that the statute of limitations in Delaware, where the abuse occurred, prevented him from doing so. Then in 2009, Delaware passed a similar bill to what Boyer proposed for Arizona and expanded the window for civil lawsuits. Kelly saw it as his chance.
He represented himself and decided he wanted to expose Bradley, and as the suit gained more media attention, more and more people began coming forward with similar stories about how Bradley preyed on them.
Once the accusations began to pile up against Bradey, he admitted to what he had done, stepped down from his judicial post and was disbarred.
No public comment
During the discussion of HB2746 in the Rules Committee, Democrats criticized the GOP majority for using parliamentary maneuvers to prevent the bill from being considered in the regular manner.
Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, said that the ruling “subverted” the public process of lawmaking, a sentiment echoed by his Democratic colleagues.
But Petersen, R-Gilbert, pushed back on that notion.
“We have hundreds of bills that go through committee that we know nothing about,” Petersen said.
And Bowers defended his decision to avoid actual committee debate, asserting that it wasn’t necessary.
“We brought this bill forward to address the need rather than address the demand,” he said.
Kern said Boyer’s bill was all about “lining the pockets” of attorneys who would race to the courthouse to file lawsuits against “potentially innocent” people and businesses.
A study of 136 sexual assault cases in Boston found that only 5.9 percent were false allegations, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Additionally, researchers found only 12 percent of child sex crimes go reported.
Arizona law currently is viewed as one of the worst in the nation for victims of child sex abuse. Kern said the Republican-backed measure that the committee approved would instead bring Arizona in line with the rest of the country.
At least 8 other states – including three this year – have enacted windows to allow lawsuits that would otherwise be time-barred. Several states have also entirely removed the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits to be filed or have made those statutes several decades.