SACRAMENTO – A week after it failed in a key Assembly committee, legislation that would allow more alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse to have their day in court advanced Wednesday.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 131, which would extend the statute of limitations for some alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse. The same committee had blocked the measure last week.
Ten Democrats and one Republican, Corona Assemblyman Eric Linder, voted for the measure Wednesday, sending it to the full Assembly.
“This is a key bill to protect children,” Linder, one of only two Republican lawmakers to support the measure so far, said in a statement afterward. “It is a strong step to make sure we meet the needs of victims and go after people who cover up heinous crimes.”
The bill would apply to a group of alleged childhood sex-abuse victims who, because of complicated interplay between previous laws on the issue and a 2012 California Supreme Court ruling, are not eligible to sue churches or other nonprofit groups that oversaw their abusers years earlier.
Supporters say the measure would allow those victims to pursue litigation. “They still have to prove the institution is highly culpable,” said San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin, who worked on the Supreme Court case.
The California Catholic Conference, private schools and nonprofit groups such as the YMCA and USA Swimming strongly oppose the proposal. They say it would be unfair to extend the statute of limitations on previously expired claims while excluding public entities from the bill.
The Diocese of San Bernardino paid out about $16 million to alleged victims after a 2002 law created a similar one-year exception to the statute of limitations, said diocesan spokesman John Andrews.
Bishop Gerald Barnes is continuing to contact legislators to urge them to vote against the bill, Andrews said. Barnes also is asking parishes to inform congregants of the diocese’s opposition to the bill over the next two weekends, either through announcements from the pulpit or through inserts in church bulletins, Andrews said.
“Having to pay another multimillion-dollar judgment would endanger some services and impact our ability to provide education and do the things the Gospel calls us to do and fulfill the social teachings of the church,” Andrews said.
SB 131 has passed the Senate and another Assembly committee. But it fell three votes short last week in the appropriations committee after several lawmakers abstained.
The measure’s author, state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, asked for reconsideration. In an interview Monday, Beall said he did not know if the bill had the votes to pass. It ultimately cleared the committee 11-3, with three abstentions.
Linder abstained last week. Earlier this week, Linder said he wanted the bill to apply to schools and other public agencies. He did not indicate then that he would support the measure days later.
“What it does is it creates two classes of victims,” Linder said Monday. “I think that the author should consider adding public entities to it. That way, there’s justice for all.”
Staff writer David Olson contributed to this story.