Bill Would Lift Sex Assault Lawsuit Limits

A state lawmaker said Tuesday she will try again to clear the way for more civil lawsuits against child molesters, telling reporters she has again introduced a bill that would wipe out the statute of limitations barring such actions.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, has introduced the measure twice before. Last session Democrats who controlled the Senate never brought the bill up for a vote. Now Republicans control the Senate and Assembly, making passage even more unlikely this time.

Lassa, though, said she isn’t giving up. She announced that she was circulating the measure for co-sponsors. She said she hoped the Penn State sex abuse scandal — the Nittany Lions face Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium — will push Wisconsin residents to pressure their legislators to approve the measure.

“We believe it’s important to stop individuals who prey on children. We will not stop until this legislation is passed,” Lassa said.

Current Wisconsin law allows people to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who sexually abused them as a child until the victim turns 35.

Lassa did not release the actual language of the bill, but said it was similar to her previous attempts at legislation. The measure would wipe out the age limit, allowing anyone sexually abused after the law took effect to file a civil lawsuit whenever they choose. Anyone 35 or older the day the law took effect would have a two-year window to file.

“Our Attorney General JB Van Hollen issued a press release stating that the Penn State scandal is a call to action, and I agree. The Child Victims Act is an answer to this call. Wisconsin needs to take action to protect out children,” Lassa said.

Supporters have criticized the age cutoff as arbitrary. They said more civil lawsuits will alert police to sexual predators who have gone unnoticed for years. They said survivors sometimes need decades to muster the courage to go after their abusers in court.

“Victims take time and need time to come forward,” Peter Isely, the Midwest director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said at the news conference. “We really no longer need to have this discussion in this society.”

Several child sex abuse survivors stood in support of the bill at Tuesday’s news conference.

Opponents counter that ending the statute of limitations would open the door for cases where facts have become obscured over time. They said the bill is really about generating money for attorneys.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki told the state Senate judiciary committee during a 2010 hearing on a previous version of the bill the measure would expose Catholic dioceses to more lawsuits from people who believe priests sexually abused them. He said the bill could drive dioceses into bankruptcy.

The archdiocese itself filed for bankruptcy this past January after it failed to reach a settlement with two dozen victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

A spokeswoman for the archdioceses didn’t immediately return messages late Monday afternoon seeking comment on the latest version of the bill.

At Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. He has maintained his innocence. Two administrators were charged with a cover-up and longtime football coach Joe Paterno was fired. The school has named former FBI Director Louis Freeh to oversee an internal investigation.