House votes unanimously for child sexual abuse victims to have more time to sue

      A measure to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue those responsible for their abuse was given a unanimous vote of support in the House last week.  The bill reached the floor too late to become law this year, but its sponsor hopes that vote will give it momentum for future sessions. 

Representative Brian Seitz (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      In 2018 state law was changed to lift the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse, but in civil law a victim of childhood sexual abuse can only sue their abusers until they turn 31 or within three years of discovering that an injury or illness was the result of childhood sexual abuse, whichever occurs later.  House Bill 367 would have extended that age limit to 41, and expand the scope of who can be sued to include anyone who enabled abuse or allowed it to continue, or who created a circumstance in which it could occur.

“Through no fault of their own, children who have been abused in the past are being victimized again by not being allowed to hold their perpetrators to account in civil actions,” said the bill’s sponsor, Representative Brian Seitz (R-Branson)

      He said when the bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee, people who experienced abuse as children in Missouri came from all over the state and as far away as Florida and Texas, to testify. 

“Many came from my own district to testify to the atrocities committed against them as children but it’s too late for them to face those involved in a civil action because the statute of limitations had run out before they came to terms with their abuse,” said Seitz.  “House Bill 376 cannot stop these past events but will allow for these children, now adults, to call the people – and I use that term loosely – to be held to account, and creates a path for civil actions to benefit the survivors and provide some form of restitution and accountability.”

Seitz refers to abuse that happened at Kanakuk Summer Camp at Branson, which in 2010 resulted in a former counselor there receiving two life sentences in Missouri prison.

      “I bring forward House Bill 367 to the House Floor for Evan; for Elizabeth, whose brother, Trey, committed suicide in 2019 because of the abuse; for Keith; for Jody; for Jessica; and for Ashton.”

      The House voted 150-0 for the bill’s perfection, or initial passage, which normally would be one step in the process toward it being sent to the Senate.  In this case, said Seitz, it is a symbolic vote and one he hopes will lead to this change in Missouri law eventually being made.

      One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Representative Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson), called the bill, “incredible.  It is one of the proudest things I’ve been able to look at this year … this is probably the best bill we’re going to hear on this floor this year.  I ask the body’s unanimous support.”

      With this year’s session ending on Friday, Seitz plans to pre-file the language of HB 367 again for the 2024 legislative session.

Prison nurseries proposal heard in House committee

      A proposal to put a nursery in Missouri’s prisons has gone in front of a House committee.

Representative Curtis Trent (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Bills filed by Representatives Bruce DeGroot (R-Ellisville) and Curtis Trent (R-Springfield) would let incarcerated women who meet certain conditions live with infants for up to 18 months. 

      The House Judiciary Committee heard that the program has been used in numerous other states, in some cases for decades.  In those cases it has led to better outcomes for mothers and children and reduced recidivism among mothers.  These and other factors have also saved money for those states. 

      Trent said in New York, more than 74-percent of women who left prison with their infants were still living at home with those children after 3 years, “which I think shows pretty readily that they haven’t [gone back to prison] at that point.  They have maintained those family ties, and you see an improved outcome with all that.”

      “We do want to take care of kids who are in a very precarious situation.  We do want to do everything that we can to seek justice in the correctional system, but also make sure that justice doesn’t work an injustice by breaking a family apart that doesn’t have to be,” said Trent.

He said under the proposal, potential participants in the program would first be screened. 

      “We make sure that the mother will be screened for any kind of mental health problems that might exist and that there is no record of violent conduct or child abuse conduct that has occurred in the past, because the goal is to have better outcomes for children in all cases.”

      The committee heard from Maggie Burke, who was a warden at a prison with a nursery, in Illinois.  She assured the committee that these programs do work, and that Missouri should adopt one.

      “You walk into any [prison], I’ve been in dozens of state facilities, and there is always a facility culture, and what you’ll see in every facility that has babies, you’ll see the culture is just different,” said Burke.  “When you have babies in a facility it kind of lowers everybody’s anxiety.”

      Representatives of the Department of Corrections told the committee that in anticipation of this proposal, they traveled recently to Indiana and viewed a prison nursery program there.  They said they came away with ideas that could be utilized in Missouri, and suggestions for tweaks to the legislation filed by DeGroot and Trent.

Maggie Burke, who was the warden at a prison in Illinois which had a nursery, testifies to the Missouri Judiciary Committee about that program.

      Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) thanked the Department for working on this and said she sees it as a continuation of previous legislative efforts. 

      “Briefly I wanted to thank you both very much for your openness to this program and for leading the charge on the anti-shackling [of pregnant women] legislation four years ago,” said Coleman.  “Thank you so much for your willingness to look at this, and thank you for your other work that you’ve been doing on human dignity.”

      Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht said, “This is more of a comprehensive approach to taking a pro-life philosophy to folks in Missouri.  It’s pro-mother, it’s pro-infant, it’s pro keeping families together.”

      Lawmakers heard that in other states, prison nurseries are supported largely by donations from private groups, and the same is considered likely to happen in Missouri.  Burke said Illinois’ program was funded without any state dollars.

      The bills propose that the nursery would be regulated by the Department of Corrections, though it could hand some responsibility to the Department of Health and Senior Services. 

      DeGroot wasn’t able to be at the hearing, which focused on his bill.

      The committee has not voted on the legislation.