Proposal to amend state constitution for sex assault victims fails in party-line vote

DENVER (KDVR) — A proposal that would have allowed victims of child sex assaults to make civil claims against their abuser or institution, regardless of how much time had passed, failed in the Colorado Senate on Wednesday.

If it had passed, the proposal would have been placed on the November ballot for Colorado voters to determine if the constitutional amendment should be implemented. To pass, the measure needed a supermajority vote. Senate Democrats hold 23 seats, which is one less than the supermajority.

That turned out to be the downfall of Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Amendment, as the measure failed by a singular vote along party lines — Democrats voted in favor and all 12 Republicans voted against the measure.

GOP leadership: Vote was due to constitutional concerns

Senate Republican Leadership issued a statement following the vote.

“We stand together united in principled condemnation of those who would perpetrate crimes against children and call out the evil inherent in sex crimes against children,” the statement read. “The Colorado Senate Republicans have long fought for and will continue to strengthen protections of children and punish those who would victimize them.

“Since 2008, the Colorado General Assembly has eliminated the statute of limitations on both criminal charges and civil claims arising out of sexual abuse of a child, as well as vastly expanding mandatory reporter laws,” the GOP leadership group continued. “If passed, the resolution would have upended numerous constitutional and legally settled rights we all depend on, including the principles of legal certainty and reliance, the principle of final litigation and due process.”

Before heading to the vote, hours of testimony were heard on Tuesday. One of those to testify was former gymnast turned lawyer and child abuse advocate Rachael Denhollander, who advocated for the proposal.

According to the Justice for Abused Children, a registered issue committee, about 84% of people polled support the proposal.

Other child sexual abuse advocates have noted the rate of such assaults could be affecting a fifth of girls and over 7% of boys. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, in 2014 the rate of sexual assaults or abuse were reported as one in nine girls and one in 20 boys under the age of 18.

Data from the Crimes Against Children Research Center points to one in five girls and one in 20 boys are victims of child sexual abuse.

Democrat senators plead for aye votes on Wednesday

Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat representing portions of Adams and Arapahoe Counties, in addition to a primary sponsor of the bill, spoke strongly ahead of the resolution vote.

“Every child, especially in the state of Colorado, deserves a champion,” she said. “Every child deserves an advocate. Every child deserves a healthy start, a safe start towards adulthood. However, that’s not the case for every child. We have people — adults — who prey and manipulate and abuse children for sexual activity. And it’s against the law. A minor cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period.”

Fields called the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of a child a method to add a comma after that last statement, allowing child abuse victims only six years to file a civil claim against an abuser.

Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat representing portions of Adams and Arapahoe counties, asked senators to consider that the measure was not immediately creating a path for child sexual abuse victims to sue their purported abusers, but instead asking the people of Colorado to consent for such a pathway to be created.

“The first step on that pathway is giving the voters the right to say yay or nay, we believe the legislature of Colorado should make legislation in this arena,” Michaelson Jenet said. “When we talk about the life-changing impact of closure, I will never know closure. That’s not something that will be available to me. No matter how many years of therapy, no matter how many times someone tells me ‘it’s not your fault,’ I’ll never be able to get there.

“But if a jury of my peers were to say ‘this man raped you,’ ‘this teacher shielded him from any action,’ perhaps I would feel some closure on an incident that … in the ’80s, we just looked at things much differently. And we know now that behaviors then are not behaviors we approve of today,” Michaelson Jenet said.

Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Democrat representing parts of Jefferson County, appealed to the Senate Republicans for a single member to vote in favor of the resolution.

“I know everyone makes decisions for a multitude of reasons, but I am deeply hopeful that someone can see it in their heart to make this vote and join us in supporting people who need us right now,” Cutter said. “Imagine it was one of your family members. Your daughter or your granddaughter or your wife. How would you react? Would you react differently?”

Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, a Democrat representing Pueblo, also spoke in favor of the bill, pointing to court cases that he believes show that the U.S. Supreme Court would allow this measure.

If the measure had made it to the November ballot, it would have required 55% of Colorado voters to approve of the measure to pass.

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