PHOENIX — A deal may be in the offing to lengthen the time for people who were sexually assaulted and abused as children to pursue their assailants in civil court.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said Wednesday evening he and key lawmakers tentatively have agreed to a plan that would give victims up until age 35 to file civil lawsuits. That's 15 years longer than current law.
It is less than Boyer had sought: He originally proposed no age limit, instead giving victims up to seven years after they reported the incident to a health-care professional. Boyer said research shows the average victim does not report what happened until age 48.
But that open-ended approach drew sharp complaints from Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who said it created situations where people — and institutions like churches and Boy Scouts — could be forced to defend themselves for claims of things that occurred decades before.
While agreeing to that age 35 limit, the legislation also would create a one-year "window'' for those people who already are older than that to file new lawsuits. But there's a key limit for those cases to appease companies that insure institutions: Victims could hold those organizations responsible only if a plaintiff could show that it knew about the abuse and actually covered it up.
The proposal, if accepted by legislative leadership, would provide a crucial victory for Boyer and advocates for victims who have been trying for years to alter the statute of limitations. Arizona, which now has a hard-and-fast limit of age 20, has been at or near the bottom of the time to sue.
It also could break the logjam that is holding up enactment of the $11.8 billion budget.
Boyer and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, vowed to withhold their votes for the spending plan unless Republican leaders agreed to expand the time to sue. And with only 17 Republicans in the Senate — and Democrats to this point solidly opposed — their votes are needed for approval.
In a series of news conferences, Boyer sought to shine light on the problem, bringing victims to the Capitol to tell their stories about how they were abused as children by adults who were in a position of trust. Assailants ranged from an Olympic skater to a priest and a judge.
But there are foes.
Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said the legislation was being pushed by trial lawyers anxious to collect legal fees. He said providing more time to sue doesn't help victims as no amount of money can compensate them for what they endured.
Boyer, however, said this is about more than getting justice. He said that, in many of these cases, the same people who had abused these victims were still in positions of responsibility — and still working with children — who need to be exposed.