California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill meant to provide certain childhood sexual abuse victims with more time to sue organizations accused of protecting the perpetrator.
SB 131 by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose) would have expanded the rights of some individuals who were left out of a previous law expanding the statute of limitations to charge an organization for failing to disclose when a member or employee sexually abused them as a minor.
"I am greatly disappointed this bill has been vetoed," Beall said in a statement. "But more than that, I am sad for the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who have been denied the opportunity to have their day in court to confront the people who knowingly allowed their employees to harm children and did nothing to protect them."
USA Swimming hired a lobbyist to oppose the bill, drawing fire from some who accused swimming's governing body of trying to protect itself from the possibility of further litigation after being hit by a string of suits.
Like the Catholic Church, which also lobbied against the litigation, USA Swimming said it was unfair that the legislation would only have applied to private institutions. Proponents of the bill said public institutions such as schools did not need to be included because they are compelled by the Freedom of Information Act to provide the kind of records required in a lawsuit, thereby removing the ability to stall investigations and discovery.
On this issue, Governor Brown sided with the bill's opponents, citing the distinction as a reason for the veto. He said a 2002 law already placed a higher burden on private institutions and that SB 131 would have made it worse.
"This extraordinary extension of the statute of limitations, which legislators chose not to apply to public institutions, is simply too open-ended and unfair," he said in his veto message.
Brown also discussed the history of statutes of limitations and their role. "There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits," he said. "With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die."
Beall said he sees the veto as failing victims. "I believe the veto is bad public policy," he said. "It is a retreat in the fight to protect our children."
He looked to the future of the issue. "SB 131 may have died," he said, "but the cause to stop childhood sexual abuse and those who cover it up does not end today."