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Child Abuse Bill Stalled

A bill approved last week by Maryland's House of Delegates that would extend the time allowed for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue abusers and their employers is languishing in a Senate committee, alarming supporters who fear that it will not reach the floor for a vote, lawmakers said.

Backers of House bill 1148, which is strongly opposed by local Catholic Church officials, said they are upset about the bill being put in the Senate Rules Committee, rather than the Judiciary panel.

Del. Pauline A. Menes (D-Prince George's County), the bill's main sponsor, said she was told by a staffer in the Senate president's office that the bill was sent to the rules committee because of "human error."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller told Post reporter Matthew Mosk that even if the bill comes out of the rules committee, it will not be approved by the Senate.

"It's a slap at the church," said Miller (D-Calvert). "It doesn't do what it was intended to do."

Current law allows abuse victims to file civil lawsuits until they reach the age of 25.

The new bill would allow those victims younger than 25 when the bill becomes law to sue until they reach age 42. This was a compromise from the bill's original language that would also have allowed victims older than 25 when the bill became law to sue for their abuse until they were in their 40s.

Menes and two fellow delegates, Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), and Tanya Thornton Shewell (R-Carroll County), said in separate interviews they voted for this compromise after being told it was acceptable to church officials.

"I was led to believe that there was no objections from the church," said Menes. "We are doing nothing that would harm the church in any way, but would help those abused."

There is no time limit for criminal prosecutions of those who sexually abuse a child in Maryland.

Rosenberg said the bill's arrival in the rules committee "didn't happen by accident. Every other bill that got [to the Senate] on time was sent to the appropriate committee. This is the exception."

Sen. Leo E. Green, chairman of the rules committee, said he had "no idea" how the bill got sent to his panel. "I'm sure if it was put there by human error it'll be put on the list to" be voted out of the committee.

Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which lobbies for the church, was not immediately available for comment.

Caryle Murphy

By Phyllis Jordan  |  March 31, 2006; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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