January 17, 2008

 

Committee Hears Testimony on Child Victims Act

MADISON – On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, and Housing heard testimony on the Child Victims Act.  The Act would eliminate the civil statute of limitations on allegations of sex offenses against minors.  The controversial nature of the legislation prompted testimony from a wide range of sources, both for and against the bill.

“Everyone who testified today wants to do something about stopping sexual assault,” said Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who chairs the Committee. “The question is whether this bill is the right way to go about doing that.  Reasonable and well-meaning people can—and obviously do—differ on that.  But we need to do more on this issue and this bill is a good way to begin.”

Among those testifying at yesterday’s hearing was Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  Archbishop Dolan warned that the Act might unduly punish congregations, many of which have been proactive in addressing the child sex abuses perpetrated by Catholic priests.  Representatives of various other private organizations voiced similar concerns.

“The question of what’s an appropriate balance is really the crux of this issue,” Taylor commented. “On the one hand, we don’t want to expose well-meaning groups to unjust or frivolous lawsuits.  But we need legislation to help victims gain closure and to deter future sex crimes against children.”

Several constitutional law scholars testified at the hearing in response to questions about whether the Act conforms to the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause.  They noted that a number of other states have passed similar laws, but that those laws have not always withstood constitutional challenges.  Wednesday’s testimony was mixed as to whether or not the Act meets existing judicial standards.     

“Constitutionality is a big issue with this bill, and we’re going to be taking a close look at it in the next few days,” Taylor said. “The technical nature of the subject is going to entail a lot of study.  But this issue deserves that level of attention.”