Bipartisan push to tighten child sex abuse laws

March 7, 2019

Bipartisan legislation expected to move this year would forbid high-risk sex offenders from contacting young people through social media and create a new duty to report abuse suspicions to law enforcement.

The bills would also grant new powers to grand juries investigating abuse allegations and expand statutes of limitations, letting people file lawsuits over abuse claims until they’re 50 years old.

That statute of limitations now runs out at age 21, which bill supporters say sets unreasonable expectations for young adults coming to terms with abuse in their past.

“It takes decades to process what happened to somebody as a child,” Attorney General Josh Stein said Thursday.

Supporters call the bill the SAFE Child Act, and it has bipartisan support in both chambers. Sens. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, and Danny Britt, R-Robeson, are the sponsors in the Senate. Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, plans to carry it in the House.

Harrington is a former child victim advocate and said the proposal will help “victims and those who work to bring offenders to justice.” Britt is a former prosecutor and said some of the bill’s changes are “crucial steps.” Faircloth is a former police chief.

Senate Bill 199 and a companion House bill to be filed later would:

The grand jury changes would be significant, adding powers to the process that are limited now to drug and sex trafficking investigations, supporters said. Stein said the state “is missing a key law enforcement authority” in this area, and that the changes would make North Carolina’s process more like Pennsylvania’s.

The Senate version of the bill would extend these powers only in child abuse cases. The House version, which hasn’t been filed yet, is expected to be broader, extending the powers in more situations.

The plan is to require a three-judge panel and multiple prosecutors to sign off before extending the subpoena and other powers through the grand juries, supporters said.

A separate House effort, House Bill 37, deals only with the statute of limitations provisions in the law.