Watered-Down Version Of ‘Hidden Predators Act’ Advances In Ga. Senate

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a watered-down version of HB 605 on Thursday. Bill sponsor state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said he’ll urge the House to stick with the original bill.

Martha Dalton / WABE

Georgia’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the “Hidden Predators Act” Thursday. The bill would expand the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

A version of the bill that passed the House raised the age limit for victims to sue their alleged abusers from 23 to 38. The Senate committee capped the age at 31.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said he’s unhappy with the change.

“If this bill were to pass today and become law, I would have to look constituents in the face at home that I tried to help them, but we gave them a bill that didn’t help them,” Spencer said. “We helped those going forward, but going back, we helped some.”

Spencer filed HB 605 to strengthen a law passed in 2015 that temporarily extended the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases. But the latest version of the bill limits the rights of survivors over the age of 31. Those victims can sue, if they can prove their abuse was concealed. They have to take action within a year of discovering the cover-up — starting July 1, 2018.

During Thursday’s hearing, state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Decatur, asked whether that provision might undo some of the work legislators fought for in 2015.

“I know certain cases were filed after we passed the 2015 law, but I know they were filed over a year ago,” Parent said. “So, it would seem a little ironic if we specifically forbade those folks who had the courage to come forward.”

State Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, chairs the judiciary committee. He said the legislation aims to provide due process for both parties.

“We’ve tried to strike the right balance,” Stone said. “We have not looked at this from the standpoint of affecting the outcome of any particular case.”

Attorney Esther Panitch represents four people who have come forward when the 2015 law took effect. She said — whether intended or not — the bill would affect her clients’ cases.

“[The bill] take[s] out all of the victims who have already filed cases,” Panitch said. “So, now the brave victims who came forward are being punished.”

The bill now goes to the Rules committee, which could schedule it for a vote in the full Senate. If the legislation makes it back to the House, Spencer said he would urge his fellow representatives to pass the bill in its original form. The chamber passed HB 605 unanimously last month.

Atlanta’s Catholic Archdiocese and the Boy Scouts of America have lobbied against the bill, arguing organizations could be unfairly targeted for abuse alleged to have taken place decades ago.