Child sexual abuse bill gets watered down in General Assembly’s final days

By: - June 8, 2021 12:59 pm
Mike Weissman

Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, speaks on the House floor June 7, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

For decades, advocates of child sexual abuse survivors have been pushing for legislation like Senate Bill 21-88. Though SB-88 was somewhat watered down in the Colorado General Assembly’s final days, survivors of long-ago misconduct are likely to gain some new power under the bill, which hasn’t yet become law.

SB-88 passed in the Colorado House on Tuesday by a vote of 50-14, with one lawmaker excused. All but three Democrats — Reps. Adrienne Benavidez of Adams County, Tom Sullivan of Centennial and Kerry Tipper of Lakewood — voted in favor.

About half of House Republicans voted for SB-88, which was sponsored by Sens. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, and Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, along with Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and Matt Soper, a Republican from Delta, in the House.

Under SB-88, someone who was sexually assaulted as a child while enrolled in a public or private youth program such as those run by the Boy Scouts of America, the Catholic Church or Colorado Division of Youth Services would be able to bring a legal claim against the perpetrator and the institution, if the public or private entity running the program turned a blind eye to the abuse. They could sue over misconduct that happened at any time in the past, even if the statute of limitations expired long ago.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet
State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat from Commerce City, represents Colorado House District 30. (Colorado General Assembly photo)

In the House Judiciary Committee, an amendment passed to require survivors of child sexual misconduct for whom the statute of limitations has already expired to file lawsuits by Jan. 1, 2025. Senate Bill 21-73, which Gov. Jared Polis has already signed into law, gets rid of the statute of limitations for any future cases of child sexual misconduct or recent cases where the statute of limitations hadn’t expired yet.

A point of contention for House lawmakers was whether to limit the amount of money that a public or private entity might have to pay in a lawsuit over sexual misconduct that occurred long ago. The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, or CGIA, dictates so-called “liability caps” for entities in state and local government that are hit with lawsuits. But an amendment that passed in the Senate would have waived the CGIA’s liability caps in lawsuits concerning child sexual misconduct. That would have meant that in those cases newly allowed under SB-88, state or local governments could pay damages greater than the $387,000 cap in the CGIA.

With an amendment added in the bill’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, lawmakers reinstated a new, slightly higher liability cap of $450,000. But on the House floor, some lawmakers argued against a double standard for private and public institutions where abuse occurred — since no liability caps would apply to entities outside the government.

In an amendment brought by House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, lawmakers raised the maximum amount the government could pay plaintiffs to $500,000. The same amendment dictated that no award in a child sexual misconduct case authorized under SB-88 could amount to more than $1 million for private institutions.

Senate lawmakers on Tuesday approved of the House amendments, meaning the bill heads to Polis’ desk.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.