Governor signs bill to change statute of limitations for Boy Scouts sexual abuse settlement

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Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, spoke on a bill lifting the statute of limitations specifically for child sexual assault victims involved in a Boy Scouts of America settlement. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a measure Friday that lifts the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse specifically for victims involved in the Boy Scouts settlement — narrowly meeting the deadline necessary for Iowans involved to receive the same compensation as people in other states.

The signing came hours after Senate File 2431 was approved by both chambers, moving through the House committee process Friday morning. The bill creates a narrow exemption to the statute of limitations on civil legal actions regarding child sexual abuse. Iowa law currently requires that child sexual assault victims file civil lawsuits by age 19, or within four years of coming to the understanding that abuse has resulted in the suffering and injuries for which they’re seeking compensation.

In the legislation, the time restrictions are lifted in cases involving claims made “against the bankruptcy state of a congressionally chartered organization.” The language was crafted to apply specifically to the Boy Scouts of America and the 2020 bankruptcy settlement reached between the group and more than 82,000 men who said that as children they were sexually abused by Boy Scout troop leaders.

The governor released a statement saying she was proud to sign the bill, and hope it brings “brings some sense of justice and closure” to the Iowa victims involved.

“Those who were sexually abused while in Boy Scouts should have the ability to receive the greatest amount of compensation available,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Even after an initial disclosure, it may take many more years before a victim is willing to file a legal action in a public court proceeding. We should not stand in the way of these survivors receiving their justified compensation.”

Through the $2.46 billion Scouting Settlement Trust, individuals involved in the settlement have the ability to recover funds for damages caused by abuse related to their time in Boy Scouts. But without the new law in place, Iowans were set to receive less compensation than victims in other states, as each state’s statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims are into consideration, alongside other factors, when determining settlement payouts.

Senators rushed to pass the bill earlier in April, as lawyers involved in the settlement said the state had until April 19 — Friday — to make changes to the statute of limitations so that Iowans could receive compensation similar to victims in other states.

The bill’s future in the House was unclear as lawmakers neared the end of session since the bill was not assigned to a committee for more than a week after it was sent there from the Senate. It was finally assigned to the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, and lawmakers approved the bill in a subcommittee of the whole and in the committee Friday morning.

The bill’s floor manager in the House, Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, said that without the bill’s passage there would be a reduction of up to 70% in settlement payouts for an estimated 300 to 700 Iowans. She urged her colleagues to support the measure, saying it was “the right thing to do.”

“We can’t reverse time we can’t take away the damage, but we can help with the compensation,” Meyer said.

Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said in the committee meeting that he was concerned about the legislation because of its broader implications for the state’s statute of limitations.

“I’m concerned about what we say to the next group coming down the pike and equal application of the law,” Holt said. “What happens to the next aggrieved group in terms of the exception we’re making today, and the law applying equally to all people?”

Rep. Charley Thomson, D-Charles City, introduced an amendment during House floor debate in an attempt to address some of the questions on how the law could impact the statute of limitations for child sexual assault claims in the future. The adopted amendment includes language stating that after-the-fact legislative changes to statutes of limitations are, in general, “poor public policy,” but that the bill deals with “unusual and exceptionally rare circumstances.”

“The amendment also will make it clear that this is a very unusual set of circumstances, and that while it is normally not the policy of the state of Iowa or the General Assembly to waive or make exceptions to statutes of limitation, we are doing so in this very rare, unusual set of circumstances,” Thomson said.

The amendment also states that the measure should not be interpreted as setting a precedent for approving exceptions to statutes of limitations in the future. Thomson said this language will both enhance the statute’s enforceability, as well as make the measure more likely to survive constitutional scrutiny.

After passing the House, the bill returned to the Iowa Senate for consideration of the amendment. It passed with unanimous support, going to the governor’s desk for final approval. Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to sign the legislation Friday to meet the April 19 deadline.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, thanked the Iowans advocating for the bill as well as Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, for taking a lead on getting the bill through the legislative process. She also released a statement following the bill signing thanking Reynolds and lawmakers for their work on the measure.

“Today’s victory is a great example of how the legislature can help people when we work together for justice and when the media shines a light on an important issue,” Petersen said. “Hundreds of Iowans will have a chance at receiving their full settlement thanks to a group of survivors who came forward, shared their painful stories and asked for our help.”

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