For over a month the Georgia Senate has had control of the progress of the Hidden Predator Act of 2018 (HB 605) which is sponsored by Representative Jason Spencer. Yesterday, March 22, the bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary committee. The bill has had a difficult path to get to the Senate, having passed out of the House at the last possible moment on Cross Over Day, February 28. It is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
The legislation has gone through hours of painstaking testimony in both chambers. In yesterday’s hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a version of HB 605 that is an improvement over the 2015 law, but weaker than the 2108 version of the bill passed by the House.
Some of the changes are related to fact that the bill now increases the evidentiary burden of proof (which was already high in the House version) on any potential claim a victim of child sexual abuse may file against an organization or entity that may have harbored a pedophile or concealed any knowledge of the abuse within their organization. This has always been a major concern.
One of the most contentious parts of the bill was the concept of a “revival” window. In the revival window, claims could be brought by any victim that was time-barred from filing a claim due to the current short statute of limitations. But, that person would have to do so within one year. The Senate version capped the age at which someone could file a claim to only those ages younger than age 31. The effect of this change would exclude any active cases that materialized from the original Hidden Predator Act in HB 17, which was passed in 2015.
This is a big concern to many because the victims who came to committee hearings and advocated for the passage of a meaningful bill, like HB 605, would not be helped by the current version of the bill. It would actually prevent those victims from seeking redress.
We can be thankful that the Senate acknowledged a need for a retroactive component, but they only wanted it to apply to fewer child sexual abuse survivors, so the age cap was adopted. The age cap of 31 years is very arbitrary because current research shows that the average age of adult disclosure of childhood sexual abuse comes much later in life, with the average age of disclosure happening around the age of 42.
This change dismisses the current research and undermines the current policy intent behind the legislation because the harm and effects of child sexual abuse are not discovered until later in
life. And, of course, there are many reasons why this happens.
Other changes made in the bill included increasing the statute of limitations from the age of 23 years to 30 years. HB 605 had increased the age originally from 23 years to 38 years. Also, the House version of HB 605 increased the discovery period for anyone after the age of 23 who discovered the harm of child sexual abuse from two years to four years, giving more victims time to come forward. However, the Senate version pushed it back down to the current law at two years.
This bill does acknowledge the need to go forward in time with a better policy, but the Senate version has muted the retroactive component of the bill significantly, which denies most cases of adult disclosure of childhood sexual abuse. These are just some of the more significant changes to the bill.
With this being said, one of the main concerns Georgia Baptists have had is that the victims of child abuse have a just and reasonable path to hold entities accountable and that the entities have an opportunity to be able to defend themselves against unjust claims. We felt that that version of HB 605 as passed by House 170-0, struck that reasonable balance between the victim and those responsible for their suffering.
It is imperative that the Body of Christ stand up for just and reasonable remedies for victims of Child abuse whose statute of limitations has run out, even if churches that intentionally covered up sex abuse are negatively impacted. Jesus said if we were to cause just one of these little ones to stumble, we should be cast into the depths of the sea. Scripture also tells us in 1 Peter 4:17 that if judgment is to begin, let it begin first in the House of God.
Let me say as I close that good people can disagree on this kind of legislation regarding the standards and on how far to seek a just remedy in child abuse civil cases. But let’s all bear in mind what Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” May we all share in the suffering and pain of these victims of child abuse, and the desire to hold responsible those who covered up abuse and allowed it to continue on and create more victims.
Please continue to pray for and contact your legislators regarding this important timely legislation. The bill still has to be voted out of the Senate and back over to the House for approval.