Senate leadership threatens passage of childhood sexual abuse legislation

Up Rise Rhode Island

June 18, 2019

By Steve Ahlquist

Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) have been working for years to pass bills that would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. “importantly, the legislators are advocating for legislation that will allow victims to bring lawsuits against both perpetrators and the institutions that protected them or allowed the abuse to occur.

Last year, shortly after the General Assembly closed for the year without passing such legislation, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a staggering report on the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in six out of eight dioceses. Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, whose lobbying efforts had quashed the bill here in Rhode Island, was the auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh at that time. In the Providence Journal, Tobin said he was “aware of incidents of sexual abuse when they were reported to the diocese” but, “[e]ven as an auxiliary bishop, I was not primarily responsible for clergy issues.”

Suddenly, General Assembly leadership in both houses looked very, very foolish and shortsighted, promising that next year legislation would get their careful attention. This year the legislation seemed on its way to passage, but now that easy path to passage seems to have stalled. The House and the Senate have passed different versions of the bill. In order for legislation to actually become law, the same bill needs to pass both chambers.

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