HARTFORD, CT — A bill that would eliminate or extend the deadline for victims to bring sexual assault charges while also expanding sexual harassment training in the workplace passed the Judiciary Committee Wednesday by a vote of 26-14.
The bill is similar to one that made it through the Senate last year but not the House.
Currently, 45 states have a longer statute of limitations for rape than Connecticut. Twenty-five states have no statute of limitations.
The bill, which some referred to as the “Time’s Up Act,” eliminates the statute of limitations for forced rape and rape by drugs. The bill also extends the statute of limitations for forced sexual contact from five years to 25 years and unwanted sexual contact from one year to five years.
Connecticut’s current statute of limitations requires victims of first-degree aggravated sexual assault to report the offense within five years of the assault.
The bill would also extend the statute of limitations for which civil lawsuits can be filed in sexual assault cases for those claiming they were abused when they were under age 21 until their 56th birthday. The law currently allows those under 18 to file civil suits until their 48th birthday.
Victim rights groups testified during the public hearing that the average age a victimized minor discloses their abuse is age 52 or older.
The Catholic Church, which has been dealing with sexual abuse lawsuits against priests for years, opposed the legislation.
“This proposal’s provision that allow for an extremely long or non-existent limitation period can lead to serious sociological and economic harm,” the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference said in written testimony.” These limitations are in place to protect the rights of everyone and they establish effective guidelines to allow for claims while protecting the rights of the accused.”
Proponents often cite two well-known cases — comedian Bill Cosby and ex-Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, whose victims didn’t come forward with their allegations until many years, in some cases decades after the alleged abuse occurred — as reasons the legislation is needed.
Chief Public Defender Christine Perra Rapillo opposed the bill again this year.
She said eliminating the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions of sexual assault offenses will increase the workload and “make it difficult or impossible for a criminal defendant to receive due process and a fair trial.”
On the issue of sexual harassment training in the workplace, under current law, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide at least two hours of training on sexual harassment to its supervisory employees within six months of her or his employment.
The bill requires employers with three or more employees to provide training, and extends the requirement to all employees. The state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) will make a video or other online materials available that will satisfy the training requirement.
The bill’s proponents said they hoped the video component would allay the concerns of those who felt the law was too onerous on smaller businesses in the state.
But that issue was on the minds of many of the Republicans who voted against the legislation, including Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield.
“I’m concerned what this could mean for small businesses in our state, which are the majority of the businesses in our state,” Smith said.
Fellow Republican, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he wanted it on record that he and many of his Republican colleagues support the goals of improved sexual harassment training in the workplace but were concerned that CHRO’s role as described in the bill may be overstepping boundaries.
“I think there is some gray area as to what is sexual harassment,” said Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who voted against the bill.
She said an employer shouldn’t be penalized if their employee doesn’t want to comply with the training.
The bill targets felony sexual assault cases.
Rapillo supported the bill’s passage during the public hearing on it, stating: “This is a reasonable measure that provides victims with more time to come forward while protecting the accused’s right to be able to reasonably defend themselves.”
Rapillo said the additional time will provide “protection to vulnerable citizens without fatally impairing an accused’s right to defend him or herself.”
The bill passed by a vote of 34-6.