Panel OKs 2 Sex Abuse Bills
Time to File Lawsuit, Penalties for Failure to Report Would Increase

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic [Arizona]
Fabruary 27, 2003

The Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved a pair of bills Wednesday that extend the filing time for sexual misconduct lawsuits and increase the penalties for failing to report abuse or neglect of minors.

The bills, which now go to the full Senate, were prompted by a spate of sex allegations against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and several school districts in the state.

Nearly a dozen sex abuse victims asked to testify in favor of the bills, but committee members heard only three because of time constraints.

The committee voted 8-1 to approve Senate Bill 1352, which makes it a felony for adults in supervisory roles to fail to report abuse or neglect involving minors. Current "duty to report" law carries only misdemeanor penalties.

A second bill, which passed 6-0 after three committee members left, would give victims more time to bring lawsuits in sex abuse cases.

Senate Bill 1286 allows minors who are sexually abused to file suit up to their 28th birthday. Adults with repressed memory would have three years to file suit after regaining knowledge of the attack.

The Arizona Legislature lifted all statutes of limitations on criminal sex abuse cases two years ago, but current law gives minors who are molested only until their 20th birthday to file civil lawsuits. Adults must file suit within two years of their attack.

"The abusers are winning because they know the way the law is written they can hide behind these archaic statutes of limitations," said Kathleen Anderson, 45, a captain paramedic with the Phoenix Fire Department.

Anderson wept as she told the committee it took her decades to muster the courage to accuse a high school coach who sexually abused her.

"Please help the victims," she sobbed. "Help stop this epidemic of sexual abuse."

Insurance lobbyist Jack LaSota was the only speaker against extending the statute of limitations. He said in- cluding provisions for repressed memory "will really open the floodgates" for lawsuits against schools and churches.

Democratic Sen. Linda Aguirre, sponsor of the bill, listened intently to Anderson's testimony and the emotional accounts of two victims of sex abuse by priests.

"If this is an example of the floodgates we can expect, then shame on us," Aguirre said.

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