Advocate Pushing Lawmakers to Sign Child Protection Pledge

By Edward Mason
Eagle-Tribune [Massachusetts]
August 22, 2006

Boston - A children's advocate from North Andover is trying to make a campaign issue out of the Legislature's failure to give child abuse victims more time to report they've been assaulted.

Debbie Savoia wants House and Senate members to sign a "child protection pledge" saying they'll push for approval this year of a 12-year extension of the statute of limitations on reporting child abuse.

Reaction from candidates is mixed, with one saying he found the tone of the pledge language "insulting."

Savoia, vice president of Chelmsford-based Community Voices, said the election-year pledge request will put the heat on lawmakers to act.

"It's important to get it out there to people (information about the candidates) running for these offices," Savoia said. "It's going nowhere with the lawmakers we have."

The Legislature came close to approving a bill that would give abuse victims a total of 27 years to report abuse - 12 more years than they have now. But the extension effort fell short in the waning hours of the Legislature's formal session July 31.

Legislative leaders are close to picking a date to return for one day in September, and Savoia wants lawmakers to take up the child abuse bill then.

The pledge asks lawmakers to support the bill, and to pressure House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to include the statute of limitations measure on the agenda when the Legislature convenes in September for a one-day formal session.

Rep. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, signed the pledge.

"I think it's important we aggressively protect the rights of young victims," L'Italien said.

L'Italien's Republican challenger, Georgetown Selectman Lawrence "Lonnie" Brennan, said he'd sign the pledge because toughening child abuse laws is "a no-brainer."

Rep. Harriett Stanley, D-West Newbury, said she objects to pledges because they confine lawmakers without respect for changing circumstances, and would not sign this one.

However, she said she supports extending the statute of limitations.

"I think it needs to be seriously extended or eliminated," Stanley said.

Stanley voted against giving the House Judiciary Committee until the end of June to report the abuse bill out. She was concerned lawmakers wouldn't have time to finish work on it, and indeed, time ran out.

Stanley's opponent, Republican Evan O'Reilly, was traveling and said he would not comment on the pledge until he has seen it.

Rep. William Lantigua, D-Lawrence, said he wouldn't sign the pledge because he doesn't like its tone.

Lantigua supports the extension, but found the language of the pledge "insulting."

"It is like they're telling us we're not trying to protect the people," Lantigua said. "It's not the only piece of legislation that didn't get finished."

Attempts to reach Lantigua's challenger, former Lawrence City Councilor Marcos Devers, for comment were unsuccessful.

Democrat Linda Dean Campbell, who is running to succeed retiring Methuen Democrat Rep. Arthur Broadhurst, said she will sign the petition but prefers to eliminate the statute of limitations.

Edward Curran, another Democrat seeking Broadhurst's seat, also said he'd sign the pledge. Independent Kenneth Henrick said he would sign the pledge.

Republican Robert Andrew had not seen the pledge and couldn't comment.

Attempts to reach Democratic candidates Michael Hennessy and Chris DiBella, who also are in the crowded field to succeed Broadhurst, for comment were unsuccessful.

Savoia also is asking the gubernatorial candidates to take a similar pledge, promising to support laws that protect children. Campaign officials for Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, and Democrats Christopher Gabrieli and Deval Patrick said their candidates would sign the pledge.

A spokesman for Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he does not need to sign the pledge because he has proposed measures tougher than the legislation, such as eliminating limits on reporting child abuse altogether.

The bill to extend the statute of limitations also would require convicted sex offenders to have their dangerousness to society classified before being released from prison. Currently, offenders are classified after their release. The classification determines whether the public is notified of where they live.

The bill failed to pass when House lawmakers rejected last minute changes by the Senate, including one by Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, to keep the clock from expiring on people afraid to report abuse because they've been threatened by their assailants.

The question now for state lawmakers is whether this legislation is taken up in a one-day formal session set for September or in an informal session, when a single lawmaker can block a bill from becoming law.

House Speaker DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini have not agreed on what will be on the session's agenda. Travaglini supports including the bill, a spokeswoman said. DiMasi, who has expressed concerns about a broad agenda for the one-day session, would like to see the bill dealt with during the informal session.

If the bill doesn't pass this year, supporters would have to start from scratch - file a new bill, have public hearings and lobby for votes. Savoia, who has pushed for the bill since the beginning of this session in 2005, doesn't want to start over.

"I don't want to go through this again," Savoia said.


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