State budget talks will continue today with deal in the works
PHOENIX — The fate of an $11.8 billion budget could be decided today as lawmakers debate the question of the liability of churches, the Boy Scouts and other organizations over old charges of sexual abuse. Key players in the debate have said there is a deal in the offering that would sharply expand the current law which says any lawsuit by a child who has been assaulted or abused must be filed within two years of turning 18.
That is among the shortest statutes of limitations in the country.
Under the plan, victims will get another decade.
The budget vote has so far been held up because Sens. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, and Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, say they’ll refuse to provide the necessary votes for the $11.8 billion spending plan until they got a change in the law they believe will help victims and provide a financial incentive to organizations to weed out the predators in their midst.
Once the deal is approved, Boyer and Carter are expected to provide the necessary votes for the budget.
Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the fight has bee over a question of balance. Fann she wants to ensure that those accused of assaulting and abusing children years ago have some chance of defending themselves.
She also said the organizations they worked for should not have to end up shelling out millions of dollars in settlements because it’s easier to do that than try to mount a defense. Fann said she fears that a wide-open door allowing those who claim they were molested decades ago could create a financial disaster.
“If somebody is looking for money -- and that’s what the primary goal is, is how much money I can get -- they’re going to look after the deep pockets,’’ she said.
For example, Fann said, someone could approach a city and claim he or she was molested 40 years ago at a community pool.
“How does that municipality possibly defend that?’’ she asked.
“The employees are long gone, there’s no way to prove that it ever happened,’’ Fann continued. “What happens is the insurance companies say ‘We’re going to settle out of court because we’re not going to spend a half a million dollars trying to defend something that we cannot prove.’’
Boyer, who has been leading the charge to scrap the sue-by-age-20 law, said money is an important factor in deterring sexual abuse and getting organizations to keep better watch over those who are working with children.
“What we’ve seen with the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church is it wasn’t until there were some financial penalties that they actually changed their policies to protect the children from sexual assault that were in their care,’’ he said.
But Boyer said the claim that all victims want is cash is missing the point.
“They want to make sure that no other child will be harmed,’’ he said. “And the only way you do that is exposing current child predators who are harming kids today.’’
Boyer said there is evidence that molesters keep preying on children until they’re caught, meaning that some people who victimized children decades ago may still be in positions of responsibility today.