BATON ROUGE (LA)
New Orleans Advocate [New Orleans LA]
May 11, 2021
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Louisiana House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would give victims of child molestation who are not yet 28 years old significantly more to time to pursue civil court damages.
House Bill 492, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, now heads to the state Senate for a committee hearing and then — if approved there — for consideration by the full chamber. If eventually ratified in its current form, the bill would give child sex abuse survivors until their 53rd birthday to file lawsuits regarding their abuse.
Current law gives victims only until their 28th birthday to initiate litigation.
The proposed legislation, as written, would not change things in the civil courts for victims of child molestation who have already reached their 28th birthday, though they have until they turn 48 to press criminal charges.
That’s because, to avoid opposition from the insurance lobby, Hughes said he dropped language that would have made the proposed law retroactive while also opening a two-year window where all unresolved child molestation claims — no matter how old — could be pursued in civil court. Other states have adopted such “lookback windows.”
Nonetheless, the 102-0 vote in the House represents a victory for the coalition who championed it, largely comprised of people who were sexually abused by Catholic clergymen.
“This bill may may not help many victims and survivors in its current form, but it elevates the conversation and may create opportunities to go further in the future, and I’m committed to doing just that,” Hughes said Tuesday.
At a crucial meeting of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure on May 3, Hughes’ bill received vocal support from clerical molestation survivors and advocates, including James Adams, Kevin Bourgeois, Jillian Edwards Coburn, Letitia Peyton, Mark Vath and Richard Windmann.
During that hearing, Gretna City Council member Jackie Berthelot also revealed that he was sexually preyed upon in grade school by the Rev. Lawrence Hecker, allegedly one of the most prolific child sex abusers in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Without a lookback window, the bill benefits none of them. But they all argued it was important to pass the legislation because research shows the average of disclosure for a child sex abuse victim is 52 years old.
Though he didn’t speak at the hearing, Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops director Tom Costanza submitted the lone card expressing opposition to Hughes’ bill.