Kansas legislators say they will reintroduce legislation expanding the rights of victims of childhood sexual abuse. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Lawmakers may expand the rights of child sex abuse victims in the upcoming legislative session, renewing efforts to pass legislation that would require clergy reporting and remove time limits for lawsuit cases involving child abuse.
Current state law sets a statute of limitations on filing for damages from childhood sexual abuses. Lawsuits have to be filed within three years of the survivor turning 18 or within three years of discovering an injury or illness caused by the abuse. Many have condemned the rule as unfair and fundamentally misguided.
Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, has worked for the past few years to pass legislation that would remove time limits for filing lawsuits in these cases. Holscher said it sometimes took years for victims to process their feelings and come forward, and the time limit harmed victims who aged out of the given timeframe.
The latest form of the legislation, Senate Bill 420, died in the Senate Committee on Judiciary in May. Holscher said she was never given a clear explanation as to why Sen. Kellie Warren, committee chairwoman, didn’t schedule a hearing for the bill.
“It’s horrible,” Holscher said. “We have people who have been waiting for justice for years, who have had expenses for therapy, and are re-traumatized every time they have to speak about what happened to them. The fact that we have to keep putting forward the effort to do the right thing, it’s so disappointing.”
Warren did not respond to Kansas Reflector inquiries.
Holscher said she thought religious lobbyists might have influenced the outcome of the legislation.
“We do know the church has a great amount of power in Topeka,” she said. “So when you have an extremist majority — and that doesn’t mean that all of them are part of that particular church or anything — but there’s a lot of power there, and a lot of lobbying that goes on.”
She has been working with victims on clarifying language in the bill and plans on introducing legislation again in January.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, championed Senate Bill 75 in spring of this year. That legislation would have required ordained religious ministers to report child abuse. Holland said he plans on reintroducing the legislation.
In an April discussion of the proposal, the Department of Children and Families estimated the new requirement would increase caseloads by about 2%, requiring the addition of two staff positions. These new protection specialist positions would require $128,084 from state coffers, according to DCF estimates.
After the legislation died in the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Holland pushed to have it approved as a resolution by the Legislature, using a Senate rule stipulating legislation can be considered if 24 senators vote in favor.
Once approved by vote, the resolution would have been voted on by Kansans as a constitutional amendment, mandating clergy reports of child abuse and neglect. The resolution didn’t pass.
Chuck Weber, executive director for the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the organization supports the legislation. He testified in favor of the legislation when it was first introduced.
“The Kansas Catholic Conference testified in favor of duly ordained clergy as mandated reporters of abuse. Our position has not changed,” Weber said in a written statement to Kansas Reflector.
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