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Effort To Remove Time Limit On Child Sex Abuse Charges Advances In Senate

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A bill that would remove the time limit on filing criminal charges in child sex abuse cases advanced in the Iowa Senate Thursday, but its future at the Statehouse is unclear.

Current state law says criminal charges must be filed within 10 years after the victim turns 18.

“Our laws not only benefit perpetrators, but they also benefit organizations that have covered up crimes against children, and that is simply wrong,” said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who added she has been working on this issue for years.

The Senate passed a similar bill last year with bipartisan support, but it stalled in the Iowa House. It’s not clear if the House is open to it this year.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he is “looking very favorably” at removing the criminal statute of limitations, or at least extending it. He said the time limit almost prevented an alleged serial child abuser in his district from being prosecuted. But Holt added there are issues to consider.

“Anybody that’s been a law enforcement officer like myself knows, you can get two witnesses together for something that happened three days ago and have a different story,” Holt said. “So when you’re talking about something that happened decades ago, you also have to be careful in terms of the rights of the accused being respected in such a process.”

Holt said he does not know where his fellow House Republicans stand on the issue. The House of Representatives is not considering any similar legislation at this time.

Iowa’s criminal statute of limitations was extended to the current limit in 2014. Many victims never share their stories of abuse until much later in life. 

Petersen is also proposing removing the time limit on filing civil lawsuits related to child sex abuse cases. Current law states victims have four years to file a lawsuit after the abuse is discovered.

“If we extend the civil statute of limitations, those laws that allow [organizations] to cover up and run the clock out would disappear for them,” Petersen said. “And I think that would be a good thing for Iowa, and I think it would protect our children.”

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she has not scheduled a first hearing on that bill.

“I think it’s important we look at the criminal aspect first and see where we’re going on that part before we start diving into the civil piece as well,” Sinclair said.

A key legislative deadline is coming up March 8.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter