Down to the wire, bill to help Boy Scouts abuse victims signed by Gov. Reynolds

The Gazette [Cedar Rapids IA]

April 19, 2024

By Tom Barton

Lawmakers faced a Friday deadline for Iowa victims to have full access to the Boy Scouts settlement

With just hours to spare and under pressure, Iowa House lawmakers passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law legislation temporarily lifting the state’s statute of limitations to allow Iowa victims of sexual abuse to receive full compensation from a national bankruptcy settlement with the Boy Scouts of America.

“Those who were sexually abused while in Boy Scouts should have the ability to receive the greatest amount of compensation available,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Even after an initial disclosure, it may take many more years before a victim is willing to file a legal action in a public court proceeding.

“We should not stand in the way of these survivors receiving their justified compensation. I am proud to sign this bill, and I hope it brings some sense of justice and closure.”

Lawmakers faced a deadline of the end of the day Friday to amend the law. Otherwise, hundreds of Iowa survivors would have received a fraction (30 percent to 45 percent) of the awards they otherwise would be entitled to.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill last week.

Will Iowa lawmakers act in time for Boy Scout abuse victims?

Supporters said the change will help Iowa abuse survivors receive the compensation they deserve and not be financially penalized simply because their abuse occurred in Iowa.

“I’m grateful lawmakers and the governor stood up for Iowa survivors who are part of the largest child sex-abuse case in U.S. history,” Sen. Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said.

“… Today’s victory is a great example of how the Legislature can help people when we work together for justice and when the media shines a light on an important issue,” Petersen said. “Hundreds of Iowans will have a chance at receiving their full settlement thanks to a group of survivors who came forward, shared their painful stories and asked for our help.”

Republican Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley told reporters last week he was hesitant to advance the bill, calling it a “significant policy change” that merited further scrutiny.

Grassley told reporters last week he was concerned about broadening Iowa’s civil statute of limitations, even though the bill was narrowly written to only apply to the Boy Scout bankruptcy settlement.

Rep. Steve Holt, a Republican from Denison and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, echoed those concerns during a House budget committee meeting on the bill Friday.

Rep. Gary Mohr, the committee’s chairman and a Republican from Bettendorf, said “everyone feels the pain for” those molested as children by Scout leaders.

“That was an awful travesty,” Mohr told reporters. “But there’s a lot of other people that have suffered as well and that have missed their statute of limitations. What happens to them? That’s been the concern of a few members of our caucus.”

House Republicans amended the bill to state but for the unusual and exceptionally rare circumstances in this case, after-the-fact enlargement of statute of limitations would not be considered and it’s not the Legislatures intent to create a precedent for future legislative action.

Such exceptions tend to erode the rule of law and respect for the doctrine of equal protection, the amendment states. However, “a discrete group of Iowa sexual abuse victims face a grotesque miscarriage of justice” without legislative action, the amended bill states.

It emphasizes the action taken by the General Assembly “is not to be considered or offered in the future as creating a precedent for future legislative action.”

The House passed the bill 90-1, sending it back to the Senate, which concurred with the amendment.

The governor quickly signed the bill Friday afternoon.

What the bill does

Senate File 2431 lifts the state’s statute of limitations so that victims of sexual abuse while in the Boy Scouts can receive damages from the Scouting Settlement Trust, a $2.5 billion fund established last year after the Scouts filed for bankruptcy protection.

The law creates an exception to Iowa’s civil statute of limitations for injuries resulting from childhood sexual abuse for “purposes of making a claim in a bankruptcy proceeding that was initiated on February 18, 2020,” against the bankruptcy estate of a congressionally chartered organization. The language limits the exception to the Boy Scouts.

The act takes effect immediately and is repealed Dec. 31, 2026.

About the settlement

The Scouts filed for bankruptcy in 2020 after several states enacted laws letting accusers sue over decades-old abuse allegations.

The organization ultimately reached a settlement, approved in court in 2022, that would pay abuse victims amounts ranging from $3,500 to $2.7 million for claims against the Boy Scouts of America, as well as all claims against local Boy Scouts councils and supporting organizations.

The settlement involves more than 82,000 men who said they were abused as children by troop leaders. An estimated 300 to 350 Iowans are affected by the Boy Scout abuse settlement.

When figuring compensation, the settlement uses a matrix that weighs a variety of factors — including a state’s civil statute of limitations.

Iowa’s statute of limitations requires victims of child sexual abuse to file cases in district courts by the age of 19 or within four years of coming to the realization as an adult that their injuries and suffering are related to their alleged abuse.

Because of Iowa’s short window to file a claim, victims in the state would have seen their financial compensation from the Scouts reduced by up to 70 percent compared with victims in other states, according to an attorney involved in the matter.

“We can’t reverse time,” said Rep. Ann Meyer, a Republican from Fort Dodge and the bill’s floor manager. “We can’t take away the damage, but we can help with the compensation.”