Hogan signs bill giving sexual abuse victims longer to file suits, ending a delegate's quest

Two years ago Del. C.T. Wilson stood before a Senate committee weighing a bill to give people who were abused as children longer to file a lawsuit, and shared his story of being repeatedly sexually assaulted as a child with his colleagues for the first time.

"I really thought that maybe giving my testimony up this would be a no-brainer that my colleagues would get behind me," Wilson said. "I had no idea the battle I was in for."

Opposed by the Catholic church and the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the bill languished and by the end of the 2015 session it had not been voted on. The same thing happened the next year. This year, Wilson tried again and managed to get the bill onto the House floor, where his colleagues voted unanimously in favor.

On Tuesday, Wilson's battle was over. He stood behind Gov. Larry Hogan as the Republican governor signed the measure into law. Hogan stood and shook Wilson's hand, thanking him for his efforts on the bill. People in the room applauded.

"It was not my goal to put my personal business out like that, but we're elected for a reason," Wilson said. "You can't come out here and stand back when it gets tough."

And yet, Wilson said, testifying repeatedly in hearings was tough and opened up old wounds.

"I'm relieved that it's over that I don't have to do it again," the Charles County Democrat said.

Wilson's bill was one among a number dealing with sexual assault that has advanced in the General Assembly this year. Victim advocates say that passage of the measures makes this year's legislative session unusually significant.

Three more bills received final passage Tuesday with unanimous votes in the House. They would eliminate the need for victims to show they resisted a rapist, set aside the distinction between rape and other kinds of serious sex offenses and create new rules for handling DNA and other evidence in sexual assault cases. Those bills can now be sent to Hogan.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, the vice chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bills amounted to the most significant rewrite of the state's sexual assault laws in her 15 years in the legislature. The Montgomery County Democrat attributed the easy passage in part to the influence of the freshman class of legislators elected in 2104. They are, she said, "a little less old-school."

Dumais said each of the measures had a straightforward ride through the General Assembly.

"It sort of went through pretty easily," she said.

A pair of other bills received unanimous support in their respective chambers but have yet to pass in the other. One would create a procedure for a woman to terminate the parental rights of someone who got them pregnant as a result of rape. The other, sought by Hogan, would add sex trafficking to the definition of child abuse.

The bill Wilson sponsored allows people who allege that they were abused as children to file a civil lawsuit until they are 38 years old. Previously their ability to do that expired at 25. Supporters of the bill said many victims are still figuring out what happened to them in early adulthood and that raising the age limit would give them a better chance of securing justice.

"It gives them an opportunity to get their voice out and face their abuser whether they win or lose," Wilson said. "Because there's no money that's going to undo what happened. You can't unring that bell. But what you can do is realize it wasn't your fault, hold that person accountable and let the cards fall where they may."

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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