Proposed state legislation that repeals the statute of limitations for claims of childhood sexual abuse is discriminatory against both private institutions and victims who were allegedly abused in public institutions, say opponents of the bill.Moreover, Senate Bill 131, by Sen. Jim Beall of Campbell, could have severe financial ramifications on these institutions — including the Catholic Church, say opponents.This week, California Catholic Conference officials encouraged Catholics to make their concerns known to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which was expected to act on SB 131 and possibly send it to the full Senate for a floor vote as early as next week. SB 131 has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.The proposed legislation would (effective Jan. 1, 2014) retroactively eliminate the civil statute of limitations against private schools and private employers in claims involving childhood sexual abuse. It calls for extending the statute of limitation to age 43 for a victim to sue the person who abused them. To sue the abuser’s employer, victims would have to file before they turn 31 years old, under the bill. In either category, victims whose ages are higher than the statute of limitations will be permitted a one-year window to seek civil damages after the bill becomes law.A decade ago, the California legislature passed SB 1779, which eliminated the statute of limitation for a one-year window (2003), resulting in lawsuits against private and Catholic employers — some of which dated back more than 50 years — and settlement payments to plaintiffs in excess of $1.2 billion, including more than $700 million in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The California Catholic Conference is joined in opposing SB 131 by the California Association of Private School Organizations, the California State Alliance of YMCAs, the California Police Activities League, the California Council of Nonprofit Organizations (CCNO), the California Association of Joint Power Authorities and other religious organizations and private schools.A statement from CCNO maintains that the bill:—exposes every private employer, non-profit organization, YMCA, Little League, Youth Soccer League, private school and religious institution to potentially unlimited liability;—keeps state agencies virtually immune to claims from abuse, unless it is reported within six months of the actual abuse (as per the Tort Claims Act provisions in the Government Code);—treats victims differently based on whether the alleged perpetrator was an employee/volunteer with a government agency or a private or non-profit organization;—ignores the actual perpetrators of sexual abuse and does nothing to strengthen criminal penalties or extend the criminal statute of limitations against abusers.Additionally, the statement noted, “Under this legislation, the minimum statute of limitations affecting third-party private employers would be at least 15 years longer than the criminal statute of limitations applied to the perpetrator himself.”In a May 15 letter to Sen. Kevin de Leon, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, California Catholic Conference executive director Ned Dolejsi noted that the claim-filing requirement against local public entities was removed by the Legislature in 2008, “but even that change only applies to claims from conduct on and after Jan. 1, 2009.”By perpetuating “this discriminatory treatment,” Dolejsi asserted, “the effect would be to foreclose relief for anyone abused by a government employee, in favor of singling out private-entity employers — who were already called to responsibility in 2002 with the last revival bill [SB 1779] — to once again respond to ancient claims.”“We strongly oppose legislation that places private employers in triple jeopardy when state agencies are not subject to the same law. Will there be another effort to repeal the statute of limitations a few years from now, and another after that?”—Ned Dolejsi, California Catholic Conference executive director“Given that a study commissioned by the U.S. Dept. of Education found that in the 1990s approximately 30 times as many students experienced sexual abuse in public schools, compared to those in private schools, and that over 90 percent of children in California attend public schools, it’s easy to see that this bill would actually do very little to advance the author’s stated goals of giving victims a remedy, protecting children, and preventing sexual abuse.”In an interview with The Tidings, Dolejsi said the CCC is open to participating with public and private groups in a discussion to “responsibly amend” the bill, including the bill’s provisions on raising the age limit for victims, as well as efforts to truly make children safe from sexual abuse.“We [the Catholic Church of California] will put our record since 2002 up against anyone else’s when it comes to keeping children safe,” he said.“But we strongly oppose legislation that places private employers in triple jeopardy when state agencies are not subject to the same law. Will there be another effort to repeal the statute of limitations a few years from now, and another after that? We are saying that it’s not fair to hold the Church in jeopardy yet again.”The Catholic Church of California would be “very much impacted financially” by SB 131, said Dolejsi, given that insurance policies in effect at the time of SB 1779 may no longer be in effect as part of the settlements from the 2003 window. Some dioceses, he said, have responded to the earlier settlements by selling property, curtailing pastoral center operations and borrowing money.“If this bill were to become law, dioceses may be forced to utilize operational funds for parish, school and charitable operations in order to pay off civil claims brought by alleged victims,” he said. That could mean curtailing diocesan, educational, health and social outreach programs that benefit the entire community and save the state millions of dollars each year.The bill’s opponents assert that SB 131 discriminates against victims and hurts private schools “by forcing them to deal with an unworkable legal and business climate where they face unlimited liability of unlimited duration under conditions where the passage of time makes it impossible to mount an effective defense.”For public schools, notes the CCNO statement, SB 131 doesn’t eliminate the civil statute of limitations for any claims before 2009, but it does for claims going forward. “That means,” the statement said, “that 30, 40 or 50 years from now, public schools — and public school taxpayers — will be asking themselves the same question. As memories fade and people move on, how is it possible to effectively defend your agency and your reputation?”The seven members of the Senate Appropriations Committee are Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), chair; Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel), vice chair; and Sens. Ted Gaines, (R-Rocklin), Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Senators De Leon, Lara and Padilla are in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.To view the California Catholic Conference’s “Action Alert” on SB 131 and contact your legislator, visit {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0524/sb131/{/gallery}