Watch a previous report on the Scout's Honor bill in the video above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Decades after their abuse, years after the Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy and months after bringing their concerns to the legislature, Ohio survivors of the nation’s largest sexual abuse scandal can move forward with their settlement claims.
The Ohio Senate unanimously passed the Scout’s Honor bill on Wednesday afternoon, waiving the statutes of limitations for Boy Scouts survivors to recoup money from the organization’s $2.7 billion bankruptcy settlement. Pending the House’s approval of an emergency clause and amendment, nearly 2,000 child sexual abuse survivors will be able to recover the full amount they’re owed from the Boy Scouts.
Under the terms of the bankruptcy settlement, each state’s statute of limitations acts as a “scaling factor” for what survivors hailing from that state can receive. In a state with one of the shortest limitations periods in the country – barring childhood sexual abuse survivors from seeking civil remedy after they turn 30 – Ohio survivors are currently slated to receive between 30 and 45% of what they’re owed.
That means that for every survivor who can receive up to $1.7 million, without the Scout’s Honor Law, a survivor in Ohio may get a maximum amount of just over $630,000.
Of several bills to amend the limitations periods for sexual abuse cases proposed in recent years, House Bill 35 has made it the closest to the governor’s desk. A similarly tailored bill that would have waived the limitations period for sexual abuse survivors of former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss to sue the university, for example, never made it out of committee. Other bills to lengthen the limitations period – or eliminate it entirely – have similarly languished.
The bill’s own sponsors are on the opposite sides of a larger debate about statutes of limitations.
Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) has repeatedly introduced limitations period reforms, including a bill pending that would give most child sexual abuse survivors until age 55 to sue their perpetrators. Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), on the other hand, has opposed eliminating the statutes, arguing time limits are necessary to protect people and institutions from decades-old claims they cannot adequately defend against.
Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville), chair of the Judiciary Committee, reminded fellow lawmakers Wednesday that HB 35 does not change the 12-year limitations period on the books for civil actions in childhood sexual abuse cases – nor does it impact the statutes of limitations for other crimes of sexual violence.
“We’re just very narrowly changing the statute of limitations for this specific case. Statute of limitations has been a hotly debated subject in this chamber for many years, and we’ll continue to do that,” Manning said. “This is to make sure that the victims in Ohio get their fair share of the settlement.”
The timeline was tight for HB 35, which passed the House unanimously in March. Survivors going through the expedited claims process have until Oct. 3 to submit documentation to the Boy Scouts’ settlement trust for review and disbursement. Others have a yet-to-be-determined amount of time to do the same – but the legislature only had a little more than a year from the creation of the settlement trust to revise or eliminate the limitations period.
Hastening the timeline even more, Manning said, is the fact that settlement amounts will be disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis. There are 80,000 survivors across the U.S. eligible to submit claims, and unless opting for the expedited process, survivors’ testimonies and accompanying documents will undergo review by independent evaluators.
Several lawmakers recognized the long road to legislative action for childhood sexual abuse survivors. Miranda and Seitz first introduced Scout’s Honor Law more than a year ago, and while it passed the House as an addition to another bill, it didn’t make it to the Senate before the end of the year.
Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Dublin) remarked that it was the sustained advocacy of survivors – specifically Chris Graham – that put the bill before the Senate on Wednesday. Graham, who helped write the bill, was not sexually abused in the Boy Scouts. But as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, he testified last week that he feels compelled to serve as an advocate for fellow survivors.
“No amount of money can take away what happened to them, but to give them the opportunity to be a part of this is really right and fair,” Kunze said.
After a second vote in the House, the bill will head to the governor’s desk. Because of the emergency provision, it will take effect immediately upon signing.
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