An effort to give survivors of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits that failed in the Maryland Senate has been resurrected by the House of Delegates.
An effort to give survivors of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits that failed in the Maryland Senate has been resurrected by the House of Delegates. (Paul W. Gillespie / BSMG)

An effort to give survivors of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits that failed in the Maryland Senate has been resurrected by the House of Delegates.

Democratic Del. C.T. Wilson’s bill to remove a statute of limitations for lawsuits rising from child sexual abuse had sailed through the House, but died in a deadlocked Senate committee.

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The defeat frustrated Wilson and abuse survivors.

So, the House Judiciary Committee, in an unusual move, took many elements of Wilson’s bill and tacked them Saturday onto an unrelated bill from Sen. Justin Ready — a Carroll County Republican who is one of the senators who voted against the abuse lawsuit bill in committee.

Ready’s bill allows for longer sentences for defendants convicted of crimes of violence against a pregnant woman. It’s named “Laura and Reid’s Law” for Laura Wallen, a teacher who was murdered in 2017, allegedly by her boyfriend. Wallen was 14 weeks pregnant and her family believed she planned to name her child Reid.

The House amendments to the bill would extend the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit resulting from child sexual abuse from the current limit of age 38 to 58. It also would create a two-year “lookback” window that would allow people to file lawsuits who had previously had been barred from doing so due to the age limits.

The House adopted the amendments and moved the revised measure forward to a final vote on Monday — the final day of the 90-day General Assembly session. Any changes to the bill would need to be approved by the Senate in order to send the measure to the governor.

Wilson, a Charles County delegate, said there’s a good chance the amendments don’t survive in the end.

But he thinks the effort sends an important message. He thanked Democratic Del. David Moon for crafting the amendments and Democratic Del. Luke Clippinger, the committee chairman, and Democratic Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, the committee vice chairwoman, for supporting the amendments.

“I don’t have my hopes up, but they are doubling down on the message that they care,” Wilson said.

He said the effort gives hope to survivors.

“It’s not my fight, it’s the House’s priority. You can’t ask more than that,” Wilson said.

Ready called the maneuver a “poison pill” aimed at defeating his legislation.

“It is pretty unprecedented and it’s wrong,” Ready said. “’Laura and Reid’s Law’ deserves to pass on its merits. Women who are pregnant are too often beaten and killed by abusers and they deserved to be punished to the full extent of the law.”

Ready was among five senators who voted against Wilson’s bill in the Judicial Proceedings Committee, citing questions about its constitutionality.

Ready argued he still has questions about Wilson’s legislation, but would like to work on the proposal in future years. “There are issues that need to be worked out,” he said.

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Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said passing “Laura and Reid’s Law” is a priority for the Senate.

“We are firmly committed to that family,” Zirkin said.

Zirkin said he supports both bills and hopes a conference committee will work out a compromise where both measures can be enacted.

“In the case where somebody attacks a pregnant woman, I think there should be an enhanced sentence for that,” he said.

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