State could extend time to sue for child abuse


HONOLULU — Victims of child sexual abuse in Hawaii would have more time to file lawsuits against abusers if lawmakers and the governor approve one of two bills pending in the Legislature.

In a highly publicized law, victims have been given a two-year window to file lawsuits in cases that passed the statute of limitations, which led to a surge of filings.

That window is set to close today.

In advance of the deadline, former child model Michael Egan III filed several lawsuits against Hollywood executives, claiming “X-Men” director Bryan Singer and several others abused him as part of a Hollywood sex ring.

Singer and others denied the allegations, and the director’s attorney called the claims defamatory.

Lawmakers on Wednesday decided to take more time to come up with a strategy for a bill that would avoid a potential veto by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

“If nothing passes, the sunset occurs,” said Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman on the Senate side of the committee handling both bills.

Rep. Mele Carroll introduced House Bill 2034, which seeks to allow victims to file claims against individuals or institutions until they reach age 55. She said it’s important to empower victims of sexual assault no matter how much time has passed.

But State Attorney General David Louie has warned that if filing limitations were lifted or significantly extended, a victim could sue decades after an assault, when memories had faded and witnesses had moved or passed away.

Another proposal, Senate Bill 2687, seeks to extend the filing window for another two years.

Lawmakers also are debating whether the state should continue to be exempt from those lawsuits. Under current law, victims can file suit against private institutions, but not, for example, public schools.

That provision is unfair, said Walter Yoshimitsu, executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference, in an interview. Someone who went to private schools can accuse a teacher there of sexual abuse, but “the same kid, if he or she were in a public school and wants to accuse a teacher, they cannot sue,” Yoshimitsu said.

The Senate wants to preserve that state exemption, to prevent scenarios where the state could be viewed as a “deep pocket” and sued if a private party abuses a minor on leased state land, Hee said. House members disagreed.

“There are unfortunately too many examples of where state employees have taken advantage of their positions and abused minors,” said Rep. Karl Rhoads, co-chairman on the House side for those bills.

Sen. Maile Shimabukuro suggested keeping the state exemption in one of the bills and passing both proposals to the governor, hoping to avoid a potential veto.

The bills will go through a thorough review process with the attorney general before Abercrombie makes a decision, said his spokeswoman Christine Hirasa.

 

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