Deal to expand rights of sexual abuse survivors in the works

By: - May 22, 2019 8:46 pm
T.J. Shope

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Phoenix, speak to each other on the House floor. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

This story deals with sexual abuse and assault of minors. If you or someone you know has been a victim of this crime call 800-656-HOPE for 24/7 help and support.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, may have been able to come to an agreement on a bill to expand the ability of survivors of child sexual abuse to take their abusers to court that has been threatening to stall budget talks.

Boyer, who sponsored sweeping legislation this year to expand the ability of victims to seek justice in civil court, had said he won’t support a state spending plan until his proposal is given an up-or-down vote by lawmakers.

Shope proposed a similar bill that was backed by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, but that Boyer and victim’s advocates said the bill did not do enough.

However, Wednesday morning the two lawmakers met to discuss a possible compromise.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a deal just yet,” Boyer told the Arizona Mirror late Wednesday afternoon.

This sentiment was echoed by Shope, who said the two men “sat down and agreed to a concept in principle, but I think we can definitely get to a deal.”  

The proposed deal would include giving victims until the age of 35 to file a civil claim. It would also include a one-year civil window for victims who are not within that age range to file a claim, Boyer said.

Originally, Shope’s bill only extended the time to file a civil lawsuit until the age of 30. It did not include a broad window for other time-barred suits, but did allow those victims to take their abusers to court if criminal charges were brought against him or her.

The civil window had been a major point of contention on the proposed legislation by Boyer. Critics among Boyer’s Republican colleagues argued it would lead to frivolous lawsuits and unnecessarily subject institutions to litigation if they shielded people accused of sexual misconduct.

Under the compromise, institutions – such as the Boy Scouts of America or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – can only be sued if they knew of the abuse and knowingly failed to stop it. Boyer said increasing the burden of proof made Shope more comfortable with the one-year window.

“That has really always been the heart of the matter,” Boyer said of the civil window.

However, even with a compromise seemingly within reach on the sexual abuse bill, Boyer said he still is not prepared to vote for the budget that we negotiated by GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Boyer said that he is concerned that Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, had several of her budget requests not included due to her support of Boyer’s stance on his statute of limitations bill.

“She stuck her neck out for me on this one,” Boyer said, adding that he wants to make sure that he does the same for her.

Carter was not immediately available for comment.

Among the budget measures Carter has been pushing for this session are increased dental access for pregnant mothers and increased funding for Graduate Medical Education Funding.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.