Churches Get Break in One Sex-Abuse Bill
Sponsor Takes out Provision Removing Statute of Limitations

By Jean Torkelson
Rocky Mountain News [Denver CO]
February 16, 2006,2777,DRMN_23906_4470942,00.html

The Archdiocese of Denver - and other private institutions - got a break Wednesday in one of three sex-abuse bills before the legislature.

Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, agreed to take out a provision that would have removed the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits. The provision would have made private institutions liable forever for the actions of a sexual predator.

As it stands now, House Bill 1088 still extends the statute of limitations in criminal cases, but that affects only a perpetrator, not his employer.

"That is an enormous change," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, leader of a group of 26 Republican lawmakers who asked Marshall to amend her bill. "As it was written, the bill would have made (institutions) liable indefinitely. By removing the provision as she did, she still holds criminals accountable for their crime."

Marshall could not be reached for comment.

The change represents a success for Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is trying to "level the playing field," as he puts it, in three sex abuse bills that could put private institutions on the hook for massive lawsuits brought by adults who were victimized as children.

Chaput says the bills would be fairer if they included public institutions and schools that are now protected by governmental immunity, which greatly limits their exposure to lawsuits and damage awards.

Another bill, House Bill 1090, recently was amended to include public schools in any change of the statute of limitations on bringing sex- abuse lawsuits. In the Senate, a bill allowing long-ago sex abuse cases to be brought to civil court still only applies to private institutions like the Catholic Church.

The sex-abuse bills "weren't even on our radar screen until the archbishop said, 'Put schools in there,' " said Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, which represents 37,000 teachers. Fallin said the CEA has not taken a position but is watching the issue.

The Colorado Association of School Boards, which represents 178 boards around the state, is "concerned" about the legislation but has not yet taken a position, said Jane Urschel, the group's associate executive director.

The Colorado Association of School Executives, which represents nearly 4,000 superintendents and administrators, is wrestling over whether to weigh in, said communications director Jana Caldwell.

Parishioners have testified in legislative hearings that unlimited liability could jeopardize parishes' viability and put at risk their longstanding programs for the poor and other worthwhile projects.


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