(This admittedly falls into the category of better-late-than-never news, but I suspect that proponents would say the same thing of the bill itself.)
Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed into law a bill -- closely watched in Spokane -- to extend the statute of limitations for some sex crimes against children. Instead of having to prosecute things like first-degree rape of a child under 14 by the time the victim turns 21 or 24, for example, law enforcement could go after the perpetrator up until the time that same victim turns 28.
For years, former local prosecutor Don Brockett has been beating the drum for complete elimination of the statute of limitations in major child sex crimes. Some things, the reasoning goes, are so horrific and life-changing that the offender should spent the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, worried about a police knock on the door.
Local lawmakers, including state Sen. Chris Marr and former state Rep. John Ahern, tried to make that change in recent years, only to run into resistance from lawmakers and some victims advocates and prosecutors. It does no good, opponents argued, to wrongly give victims false hope of prosecuting a case decades after the fact, as documents are lost and memories fade. And defense attorneys argued that it would be extremely difficult to defend an innocent person in such cases.
"Who could imagine that protecting today's kids from pedophiles by
giving yesterday's victims a chance to grow up and realize the harm and
speak up would be controversial? But it was," Spokane attorney Beth Bollinger wrote on her blog tracking progress of the bill all session.
Brockett (whom I couldn't immediately reach) is clearly happy with the change, which makes it harder for rapists and molesters to run out the clock and avoid prosecution. But Brockett has long advocated no statute of limitations at all for a wide array of sex crimes involving children.
"You can be sure their molesters are keeping track of that time, knowing they will be able to continue to molest more children with the assurance they will not have the responsibility for their crimes and will not be recognized in the communities in which they live," Brockett wrote today.
In February, Bollinger went to Olympia to testify on behalf of the change. Abuse victims feel shame and isolation, she and other advocates told the Senate Judiciary Committee, and even 28 is a pretty early age for someone to step forward and reveal past abuse.
After some starts and stops, the bill passed both houses unanimously and was signed into law last week by Gov. Gregoire. It takes effect July 26.
Bollinger wrote on her blog:
I ended up not going to the bill's signing ceremony. Don didn't go, and I just decided it would be a lot of driving for just a few minutes. It would have been fun but, in a way, it was unnecessary. The most important thing already had happened. The bill had become law.