Government

Iowa lawmakers eye ending statute of limitations on sex crimes against minors

'We shouldn't be a sanctuary state for predators'

The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Charges of sexual assault and other sexual crimes against minors could be tried at any time under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

The proposal would eliminate Iowa’s statute of limitations on those crimes.

Currently, sexual assault charges must be brought within 10 years after victims turn 18 or within three years of an alleged perpetrator being identified by DNA evidence.

The proposal to eliminate the statute of limitations is working its way through the General Assembly in the wake of the latest round of revelations of decades-old sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests against minors, this time in western Iowa.

“We continue to see case after case unfold of predators who have been allowed to continue preying on our children,” said Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines. “Our laws not only benefit perpetrators, but they also benefit organizations that have covered up crimes against children, and that is simply wrong.

“I’m hoping that the more public attention that’s drawn to this, maybe we’ll get more support to change our laws, not only to help survivors, but also to prevent perpetrators from continuing to prey on children. We shouldn’t be a sanctuary state for predators.”

Petersen was one of three state senators who approved Senate File 1054 Thursday in an Iowa Senate subcommittee meeting.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she expects the proposal to pass through the Senate’s Judiciary Committee before a key legislative deadline next week.

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The Iowa Senate has passed similar proposals before, but they have not been taken up in the Iowa House. Sinclair said she has not discussed the topic with House leaders.

“I think it’s an important issue to talk about in light of where society’s coming,” Sinclair said.

The lone organization opposing the bill is the American Civil Liberties Union. The Iowa Catholic Conference is not registered as having a position on the bill.

Petersen said she also thinks lawmakers should pass a similar extension or elimination of the statute of limitations on civil charges related to sex-based offenses against minors.

“Our current law benefits organizations, and it gives them an opportunity to cover up crime without any financial implications,” Petersen said. “If we extend the civil statute of limitations, those laws that allow them to cover up and run the clock out would disappear for them.”

Republicans hold the majority and thus set the agenda in the Iowa Senate.

Sinclair said she is focused on the criminal statute of limitations and does not plan to run the bill that would also address the civil statute.

l Comments: (563) 383-2492; erin.murphy@lee.net

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