HARTFORD, CT — In the era of the MeToo movement, when it seems like more women are coming forward to report sexual assault and harassment, the Connecticut General Assembly failed to pass legislation to address the issue.
A bill that would have eliminated the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes and asked businesses with 20 or more employees to provide them with sexual harassment training died on the House calendar.
It passed the Senate on a 31-5 vote, but then sat on the House calendar for four days before the session ended at midnight Wednesday.
“There was a problem with the bill as it was written in the Democratic caucus,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Thursday. “I was very disappointed to not get a vote on it. It was problematic and it should have been fixed so it could have been voted on.”
Chief Public Defender Christine Rapillo said they had problems with the language and expressed those concerns to lawmakers.
“Statutes of limitations exist to ensure that cases are brought to court in a time frame that allows for a just adjudication of the facts,” Rapillo said. “As time passes, witnesses disappear or their memories fade. Our agency was not opposed to some extension of the statute of limitations for felonies and I am on the record with the Judiciary Committee indicating that we would not have objected to doubling the time frame for felonies to 10 years.”
The current statute of limitations for the most serious sexual assault crimes is five years. The bill sought to completely eliminate the time frame to bring a sexual assault case to criminal court.
Connecticut, Indiana, and New Mexico are the only three states with a five year statute of limitations on sexual assault. There are 26 states with no statute of limitations, and another 20 states with a statute of limitation that’s greater than five years.
A 5- or 10-year statute of limitations, for example, would mean that neither comedian Bill Cosby nor Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics national team doctor, would have ever been prosecuted in Connecticut. Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women and was convicted by a Philadelphia jury in April of three charges related to a 2004 assault. He is awaiting sentencing. Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years in prison in Michigan in relation to years of sexual assaults on dozens of young women.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he doesn’t know if the statute of limitations was the only problem the bill faced.
“The lateness of the amendment, the bill changing, people feeling like they weren’t included … that always makes it difficult up here,” Aresimowicz said. “Sometimes the issue itself falls victim to the process. And folks in our chamber felt it very difficult without being at the table.”
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said the reason they added back statute of limitations for lesser felony crimes is because they knew they needed the support in the House. She said House members were apprised of the changes, which added back statute of limitations for D felonies and misdemeanors. The bill included a 25 year statute of limitations for D felonies and 1 to 5 years for various misdemeanors.
“They were consulted about every change that was made,” Flexer said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said it’s going to be one of the first “must have” bills in the next legislative session.
Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) Executive Director Kate Farrar said they are disappointed the bill didn’t make it over the finish line.
“Every day, women face harassment in their workplaces,” Farrar said. “Economic security for women in our state is critical to the well-being of our workforce and prosperity of our state’s economy.”