More Time Backed for Abuse Cases

By Aman Batheja
Fort Worth Star-Telegram [Texas]
December 1, 2006

Local lawmakers say they will support extending the statute of limitations on child sex abuse in the next legislative session, a proposal getting renewed attention following revelations this week that Fort Worth Catholic Diocese officials misled people about sexual abuse by priests and tried to delay victims from taking legal action until time ran out.

Local lawmakers differed on how far to extend the point at which a child sex abuse accuser could file a criminal complaint or lawsuit and said the chance of such legislation passing next year in Austin would hinge on the details.

Texas law currently gives accusers 10 years after their 18th birthday to take action.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said that time should be increased because of the delicate circumstances that can cause a victim to take longer to face an abuser.

"It would be appropriate to give a victim or an alleged victim more time to overcome certain mental anguishes that they may be experiencing," Veasey said. "I think we'd obviously need to debate what would be appropriate for how much more time is needed and to be fair about the situation."

Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, approved of extending the statute of limitations but said the length of an extension would need to be debated.

"I don't know if I think someone in their advanced years ought to be charging someone that's dead," Mowery said. "It's got to be practical about it."

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, in the past has supported eliminating the statute of limitations for molestation.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault against a child, just as Texas law currently treats murder. Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, has filed a similar bill in the House.

Ellis proposed the same bill in 2004. The bill never made it out of committee despite strong public support, said Kenneth Besserman, a spokesman for Ellis.

Besserman said the bill should have a better chance this time around, in part because of the strong focus that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst put in his re-election campaign on toughening laws regarding sexual abuse of children.

"All things being equal, I think we have a better shot this time than last time now that the issue has become more prominent," Besserman said.

Dewhurst supports increasing the statute of limitations, according to spokesman Rich Parsons.

In Pennsylvania, allegations of assaults on minors by more than 60 priests since 1967 prompted a major overhaul of how the state deals with sexual abuse of children. On Wednesday, Gov. Ed Rendell signed a bill extending the time accusers of child abuse have to sue until the accusers' 50th birthday. Also, an employer or supervisor can now be held criminally liable if they were told of abuse by an employee who cared for children but failed to stop it, according to legislation passed Wednesday.

In terms of revamping Texas law concerning failure to report child sexual abuse, Geren, Mowery and Veasey all said their support would depend on how the bill was written.

For instance, Mowery noted that lawmakers would have to decide whether only employers who had direct knowledge of abuse were liable, or even those who had perhaps heard rumors about such abuse.

"It would have to be strictly structured," she said.

Staff writer Pete Alfano contributed to this report.

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695


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