Child Victims Act passes Minn. House; still not done deal

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State Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, is pictured at the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Simon is author of the Child Victims Act, and was surprised by the overwhelming support during Tuesday's vote.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Minnesota House lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would allow victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue abusers and institutions that failed to protect them.

The final tally - 115 votes in favor and seven opposed - came as a surprise to the bill's author, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins.

"I'm really, really pleased and gratified, and the margin in particular was a pleasant surprise to me," Simon said. "I think it demonstrates that people know there's something wrong with current law."

State law says victims of child sexual abuse must file any civil lawsuits before age 24. Many victims of sexual abuse and their supporters say that's not enough time. Victims often keep abuse secret for decades, and it can take years to realize that other problems, such as intimacy issues, depression or drug addiction, stem from childhood sexual abuse.

The Child Victims Act, as passed in the House, would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for all new cases. For past cases, it would give victims three years to decide whether to file a lawsuit. At the end of the three-year window, no lawsuits for past abuse would be allowed.

The original version of the bill made no distinction between past and future child sexual abuse cases, but it was amended after objections from some lawmakers and lobbyists for Minnesota Religious Council. Opponents of the bill argued that removing deadlines for older cases would create too much financial risk for churches and other institutions.

The Senate version of the bill, authored by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for all child sexual abuse cases. It awaits a vote on the Senate floor. Any differences in the two bills would need to be reconciled by a conference committee and then signed by the governor.

"This is not the last stop, by any means," Simon said.

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