A bill that would extend the statute of limitations on civil claims brought against alleged child predators cleared a major legislative hurdle Tuesday when the Louisiana House gave it its unanimous approval.
House Bill 492, sponsored by Rep. Jason Hughes (D-New Orleans), proposes extending the prescriptive period, or statute of limitations, from 10 to 35 years for lawsuits regarding child sexual abuse claims. Lawmakers approved the measure in a 102-0 vote. It has advanced to the Senate for consideration.
Under the current statute, people who say they were minors when they experienced sexual abuse or physical abuse that resulted in permanent impairment, injury or scarring have 10 years past their 18th birthday to file lawsuits against their alleged perpetrators, that is, their 28th birthday. If Hughes’ bill becomes law, they will have 35 years or until their 53rd birthday.
Related measures in the House include HB 55, which would simplify the process of getting a temporary restraining order in domestic abuse cases.
Hughes said on the House floor Tuesday he created the bill after meeting and hearing from several people, many of them middle-aged men, who suffered in silence for most of their lives until finally telling someone of the abuse they experienced as children. Furthermore, they couldn’t sue their abusers because they were past the 10-year limit.
“Remarkably, many of the victims that came to testify in committee, (the bill) will not even benefit them,” Hughes said. “But they are continuing to champion the bill because they realize it will potentially help other victims.”
Hughes said data from the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that 86% of child sex abuse goes unreported altogether, and when victims do report, a high percentage don’t disclose their abuse until much later in life.
On average, he said, victims of child sex abuse come forward at the age of 52, long past Louisiana’s current prescriptive period.
Hughes initially proposed removing the time-limit entirely, but, he said, he received pushback from insurance lobbyists who did not want it removed. (Many lawsuit claims are settled and paid by insurance companies).
“The insurance lobby had some concerns, so I worked extremely hard to keep this bill alive given how important this bill is to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse,” he said. “In its amended form, the insurance lobby has removed its opposition, and so they are not opposed to the bill.”
Hughes said the last time the prescriptive period on this issue was amended was 1993, nearly 30 years ago.
As part of Hughes’ compromise with the insurance lobby, his legislation would only apply to future cases and not to past cases of abuse.
“Even though this is a compromise, let me be clear, it is not the end, because we are talking about victims that have been viciously, heinously raped and molested,” Hughes said. “I want you to think about your childhood. Mine was beautiful. But these victims were robbed of their childhood and many of them were robbed of their adulthood.
“Politics should not be a part of this discussion,” he added. “And we owe it to them at some point — at some point — to give them justice and give them closure…I hope that you will fight this fight with me on behalf of every victim and survivor of child sexual abuse.”
Lawmakers from both parties voiced their support for the measure.
“I’m going to respect your wishes not to try and amend the bill,” Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley) said. “But I hope on the Senate side it gets amended to include retroactivity because that would be the right thing to do.”
Rep. Jeremy LaCombe (D-Livonia) said: “When it comes to children who are raped and sexually assaulted, they need or deserve their day in court … Certainly to the ones who were in positions of power to abuse them, they need to be held accountable — no matter where that institution is, no matter where they may be, no matter where they are today — it needs to be brought to light.”