Maryland panel OKs time limit end on sex abuse lawsuits
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A key panel of Maryland lawmakers on Friday advanced a measure that would end the state’s statute of limitations for when civil lawsuits can be filed against public and private institutions related to child sexual abuse.
The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 10-1 to send the bill to the Maryland Senate. The vote is significant because the measure has passed the state’s House of Delegates in recent years, only to stall in the Senate.
“I’m feeling like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulder,” said David Lorenz, the Maryland leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, after the vote. “It is the biggest hurdle we’ve had.”
Currently, people in Maryland who say they were sexually abused as children can’t sue after they reach the age of 38. This year, state Sen. Will Smith, a Democrat who chairs the committee, sponsored the bill that would end the age limit.
Fifteen states have lifted statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, according to Child USAdvocacy, a nonprofit that advocates for better laws to protect children.
In 2017, Maryland raised the age that accusers can file lawsuits from 25 to 38. But the law also included language, known as a statute of repose, that some say prevents lawmakers from extending the statute of limitations again.
The measure before lawmakers this year has the support of Gov. Wes Moore, who commended Del. C.T. Wilson, the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee who has been the bill’s sponsor in the House.
“Governor Moore supports this legislation, and commends Chairman Wilson and the child abuse survivors who have courageously told their stories and pushed for this legislation to pass,” wrote Carter Elliott, a spokesman for Moore, in an email Friday. “Governor Moore looks forward to signing this bill into law to protect Maryland’s children.”
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents the three dioceses serving the state, opposes the bill, contending it’s unconstitutional.
“The legislation creates blatant disparity in its treatment of victims, with much lower monetary judgements available to victims of abuse in public institutions than those of abuse in private settings,” the conference said in a statement.
Smith added an amendment to the bill that would enable the state’s highest court to decide the constitutionality of the measure before any lawsuits go through lower courts.
Attorney General Anthony Brown wrote in a letter last month that “no Maryland case is directly on point about the constitutional issue Senate Bill 686 raises.” Brown added that he has reviewed various past letters of advice from the attorney general’s office as well as legal evaluations from others.
“The materials contain well-researched analyses and reach a reasonable difference of prediction as to how the Maryland Supreme Court would decide the issue,” Brown wrote. “Accordingly, I conclude that, as Attorney General, I can make a good faith defense of the constitutionality of Senate Bill 686.”
The issue is getting added attention in Maryland after an investigation initiated by the state’s previous attorney general identified 158 Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore who have been accused of sexually and physically abusing more than 600 victims over the past 80 years, according to court records made public in November.