SB 131 Approved by Legislature
SACRAMENTO – Overcoming an intensive and well-financed campaign to kill it, Senate Bill 131 triumphed Friday, winning final legislative approval on a 21 to 8 vote in the Senate to advance to the Governor’s desk. Ten legislators did not cast a vote.
The bill, introduced by Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would allow a small group of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse an opportunity to gain justice against the institutions that enabled their abusers.
“I want to thank my colleagues who had the courage to stand up for the victims of sexual abuse despite intense opposition,’’ Beall said. “California must not retreat in the fight against child abuse. We are moving forward for the sake of the victims and for justice. SB 131 accomplishes that. It will make organizations accountable for knowingly protecting employees who sexually abused children in the work place.’’
The bill addresses a gap in the law that has prevented victims from seeking restitution under SB 1779, which became law in 2003 and expanded the statute of limitations for victims to file claims against third parties who knew their employees were a danger to children but still allowed them to work with kids. SB 1779 was passed unanimously in the Assembly and Senate.
SB 1779, authored by then-Sen. John Burton, gave victims over 26 the opportunity to sue if they discovered their injuries stemmed from the abuse they suffered as a child, giving them three years from the time of discovery to file. SB 1779 also opened a one-year window from 2003 to 2004 for victims who were previously barred from filing who were previously barred. But the law did not account for those victims over 26 who made a causal connection after the one-year window closed in 2004.
Tony Quarry, whose case fell into that gap, filed a court case challenging the one-year window deadline imposed by SB 1779 but lost in the State Supreme Court. The court, however, invited the Legislature to change the law. If signed into law, SB 131 would allow those people who were excluded to seek restitution.
The bill faced intense opposition from organizations and institutions that paid out damages to victims in the wake of SB 1779. Opponents spent more than $200,000 on lobbyists, mounted a television campaign, and issued pleas from pulpits across the state to undermine the bill.
SB 131 was supported by healthcare professionals such as the California Nurses Association and by law enforcement agencies such as the Peace Officers Research Association, the California Association of Chiefs of Police, and prosecutors, including the district attorneys of Santa Clara and San Diego counties.
It was also supported by John Burton. In a letter to legislators last month, Burton said SB 131 “takes the high moral ground and allows . . . victims a one-year window to seek resolution from their abusers. This bill is necessary. This bill is important. This bill reflects California’s commitment to protecting our children and punishing those who protect child molesters.’’