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Reynolds signs law to help Iowa Boy Scouts abuse survivors get full payouts

Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the annual Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024.
Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the law just in time for it to help Iowa survivors who are part of the Boy Scouts abuse settlement.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a last-minute law Friday to ensure Iowans who were abused by Boy Scout leaders decades ago can get their full payout as part of a national settlement.

A lawyer familiar with the case said if the bill did not become law by Friday, Iowa survivors would get less money than survivors in other states because of Iowa’s strict time limit on suing perpetrators of child sexual abuse. The bill passed by the Legislature removes that limit only for the Boy Scouts victims.

Reynolds said in a statement that those who were sexually abused while in Boy Scouts should have the ability to receive the greatest amount of compensation available.

“Even after an initial disclosure, it may take many more years before a victim is willing to file a legal action in a public court proceeding,” Reynolds said. “We should not stand in the way of these survivors receiving their justified compensation. I am proud to sign this bill and I hope it brings some sense of justice and closure.”

About 82,500 survivors of sexual abuse across the country are set to get a payout from a $2.4 billion fund created by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Iowa’s requirement for many victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue by the time they turn 19 years old means Iowa victims could've seen their financial compensation reduced by 55 to 70% compared to victims in other states.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, has advocated for the bill to help the former Boy Scouts for months. She said hundreds of Iowans will have a chance to receive their full settlement thanks to the survivors who shared their stories.

“I’m grateful lawmakers and the governor stood up for Iowa survivors who are part of the largest child sex abuse case in U.S. history,” Petersen said. “Iowans who were abused as children should not be financially penalized in their settlement simply because the abuse occurred within the borders of Iowa.”

The House passed the bill with a 90-1 vote Friday afternoon after the Senate passed it a week earlier.

Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, was one lawmaker who pushed for the change after hearing from a survivor in her community. She said it’s the right thing to do.

“We can’t reverse time,” Meyer said. “We can’t take away the damage. But we can help with the compensation.”

The House amended the bill to specify that the changes are “not to be considered or offered in the future as creating a precedent for future legislative action.”

Rep. Charley Thomson, R-Charles City, said adding such language to the bill would make it more likely to survive a court challenge.

“While it is normally not the policy of the state of Iowa or the General Assembly to waive or make exceptions to the statutes of limitation, we are doing so in this very rare, unusual set of circumstances," he said.

Other survivors of child sexual abuse who have been asking lawmakers to remove the statute of limitations for all victims will still be unable to sue their perpetrators and the institutions that failed to prevent the abuse.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter