‘Bravo to Louisiana’: Governor removes deadlines for child sex abuse suits

New Orleans Advocate [New Orleans LA]

June 14, 2021

By Ramon Antonio Vargas

New law creates three-year window for unresolved allegations – no matter how old

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a legislative bill removing legal deadlines for child sex abuse victims to sue for damages, awarding a major victory to survivors of the Roman Catholic Church’s clerical molestation scandal.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 1, creates a three-year window for all unresolved child molestation allegations – no matter how old – to be pursued in civil court.

“The scars of childhood sexual abuse may stay with survivors long term, and they deserve more time to report these devastating crimes,” Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens said.

Sponsored by state Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, House Bill 492 changes a 28-year-old law that gave Louisiana child sex molestation victims until their 28th birthday to initiate litigation. Hughes cited research showing that the average age for child sex abuse victims to come forward and report their ordeals is 52.

Although the new law applies to a wide range of victims, Hughes’ bill received key support from a coalition of people who say they were abused by Catholic priests and deacons, from their attorneys and from a national advocacy group that took up their cause and specializes in strengthening child protection laws.

A series of amendments proposed to earlier versions of Hughes’ bill delayed the final vote on it until Thursday, the last day of the 2021 legislative session. But after all the amendments were incorporated, the House and Senate voted unanimously to advance the bill to Edwards’ desk.

Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, introduced amendments to Hughes’ bill to eliminate filing deadlines, rather than simply extend them, and to open the three-year “lookback window.” Hughes had initially omitted a provision for a lookback window because he said he wanted to avoid a fight with the insurance lobby.

But the amended bill ultimately sailed through both the House and Senate. And Edwards’ signature on Monday made Louisiana the 22nd state to adopt such a lookback window.

“Not only will this afford victims of horrific child sexual abuse justice, but it will also make the children of Louisiana safer,” said Child USAdvocacy Director Kathryn Robb, who helped Hughes draft the bill. “The light of truth is both healing and protective. Bravo to Louisiana.”

Despite the role that the church’s clerical molestation crisis played in mobilizing support for Hughes’ bill, the state’s largest Catholic institution, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, has mostly insulated itself from future lawsuits over the scandal. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection last year. As part of that case, people alleging that archdiocesan priests and deacons sexually preyed upon them before the bankruptcy’s filing had to file a claim for compensation by March 1 or forever lose the right.