HARTFORD, CT — Judiciary Committee members were on the defensive Friday, a day after they announced that they would not raise legislation to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault during this year’s short session.
Committee members – both Democrat and Republican – said the issue was a complex one that deserves and needs the attention of a full session of the General Assembly, and that there simply wasn’t enough time for those discussions in the short session, which ends in early May.
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, a Republican from Naugatuck who is her party’s ranking member on the committee, was blunt about the criticism the committee has received since the decision became known.
“To even insinuate in any way, shape or form that this committee took it lightly to make the informed decision not to take this issue up at this time is unacceptable,” Rebimbas said.
“To make personal attacks to people’s character on why something is not on an agenda is repulsive,” an emotional Rebimbas stated. She added that she was proud of the fact that in her view the Judiciary Committee has always acted in a bipartisan manner.
Rebimbas said that a compounding factor was that a task force report on the topic, which the committee was slated to review, was not received by deadline.
Survivors of sexual abuse were heartbroken Thursday when they found out the Judiciary Committee was not planning to raise the legislation.
Getting rid of the statute of limitations was a priority of the Senate Democratic caucus, but state Sen. Mae Flexer, a Democrat from Killingly, said Friday is the deadline for the Judiciary Committee to raise concepts but the elimination of civil statutes of limitation is not on the agenda. Flexer forced a vote in an effort to schedule a public hearing on the issue, but lost, 18-13.
Flexer said victims of sexual abuse have been speaking to lawmakers for months and years about this issue.
“It is devastating that they have chosen to not at least give this bill a public hearing,” Flexer said.
At his own press conference on Friday, state Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he supports the legislation, but he’s not the only one who makes the decisions about what legislation goes forward.
Winfield, who has talked openly about the fact that he, himself, is a victim of sexual abuse, said: “If I had my way we would have dealt with this issue seven, eight, nine years ago.”
“I look in the mirror, I look in the eyes of a victim,” Winfield said, adding that he has worked on the bill every day.
However, Winfield, like other legislators who said they, too, supported the legislation, said that unfortunately every good initiative can’t be brought up every year for action by the legislature.
Winfield said it was difficult in the crush of other business and in negotiations with other parties and caucuses to make the bill move forward. He said he knows there’s not going to be an answer that makes survivors feel better about the situation.
“This means this wasn’t the right year,” Winfield said, nothing more, nothing less.
Rebimbas and other legislators also said they felt the legislature wasn’t getting credit for the work put in, and legislation passed last year, to address the exact same issue.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a bill that extended the statute of limitations for forced rape or rape involving drugs from five years to 20 years. The statute of limitations would also be extended for things like unwanted touching from one year to 10 years.
It also eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for all children and if a victim was 18, 19, or 20, the statute of limitations would be 30 years following the victim’s 21st birthday, effectively the victim’s 51st birthday.
State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, the Bridgeport Democrat who is also the other Judiciary Committee co-chair, said that during the “short” legislative session held in even-numbered years, the calendar only allows for the Judiciary Committee to hold between eight and 10 public hearings.
“Unfortunately, that means not every worthwhile or important topic can get a full airing,” Stafstrom said. “In fact, the Committee is only raising around 30% of the ideas or concepts that were proposed to us. With that said, we hope to discuss further changes to the statute of limitations in a future legislative session.”
But the decision not to raise legislation didn’t go over with all Judiciary Committee members.
“Time shouldn’t be an excuse not to act,” said Geoff Luxenberg, D-Manchester. He said he saw putting off action as a case of “justice delayed being justice denied.”
One of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse said the church still has power and has been lobbying against raising this legislation for months.
“Each time an institution cries that eliminating the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault will bankrupt them, they admit guilt,” survivors wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “There is no evidence verifying the arguments that eliminating a civil statute of limitations will increase the costs to the state, inundate our courts, or result in false claims, or engender dubious cases due to the lack of evidence.”
Lucy Nolan, director of policy and public relations for the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said in states that have eliminated the statute of limitations, there hasn’t been a flood of lawsuits.
She said 12 states have introduced legislation to eliminate the statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse this year.