Sen. Chris Marr is running into some political headwinds in his push to change the law so all sex crimes against children can be prosecuted until the day the abuser dies.
•A week after Marr, D-Spokane, had more than half the state Senate signed on as co-sponsors, a couple of Republicans have yanked their names off it, apparently on the grounds that their party, not Democrats, had long pushed unsuccessfully for similar changes.
•One conservative Democrat says he’s worried that the bill will threaten lifelong criminal prosecution for a “youthful indiscretion,” like a teen who has sex with an underage partner at a party.
•Prosecutors and rape victims’ groups have concerns with the bill, saying that in many cases it’s unrealistic for victims to expect a jury to convict a molester decades later.
•A key committee chairman is trying to also extend the deadline not just for prosecution, but also for lawsuits – a change that would draw fierce opposition from insurers.
Marr – backed by a vocal group of Spokane sexual-abuse victims, family members and advocates – says he’ll press ahead. He feels he has to, he said, after making a campaign issue of a years-old vote by Sen. Brad Benson not to add clergy members to the list of people required by law to report allegations of sex abuse. (Benson later voted for a bill that added some religious officials to the law.) Marr ousted Benson in November’s election.
“I didn’t want people to feel I’d made political hay out of it and then just walked away from it,” Marr said.
Several people from Spokane spoke Tuesday at a Senate hearing on the bill. It would do away with any statute of limitations for any sex offense against a child. Under current law, even first-degree rape of a child under age 14 generally cannot be prosecuted 10 years after the crime or after the child turns 21, whichever is later. For some child sex crimes, the deadline for filing is considerably less.
Former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett – who’s been trekking to Olympia every winter for years, trying to toughen the law – said the question is simple.
“Do we have the will to protect our children, or should we continue to sacrifice them to their molesters?” he said. The correct answer, he feels, is clear: “If you mess with our kids, then we’re going to have you look over your shoulders for the rest of your lives.”