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Moore signs into law ability for child sex abuse survivors to file civil lawsuits at any age

Matt Bush
Gov. Wes Moore signs SB686 & HB1 into law Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland.

Gov. Wes Moore wasted no time Tuesday signing a bill into law that will allow survivors of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits at any point in their lives. The move comes less than a week after the Maryland Attorney General’s report detailing decades of sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore went public.

The attorney general’s grand jury investigation report detailed more than 600 victims had been abused over an 80 year period within the Archdiocese. And the descriptions of that abuse were graphic and sickening Moore noted.

“But I also learned (from it) that truth is a prerequisite for healing. And that healing has already started,” Moore said at a bill signing Tuesday at the statehouse in Annapolis.

Just hours after the General Assembly adjourned for the year, the Governor signed into law one of the headlining pieces of legislation passed during the session. It repeals the statute of limitations that survivors had to file a civil lawsuit. They can now seek damages at any age, potentially allowing hundreds of those whose abuse was outlined in the report to take action.

“There is no statute of limitations on the pain these victims continue to feel,” Moore said Tuesday. “There is no statute of limitations on the hurt that endures for decades after someone is assaulted. There is no statute of limitations on the trauma that haunts so many to this day, and this law reflects that truth.”

Delegate C.T. Wilson sponsored the House version of the bill.

“I never thought God would let me see this moment,” he said Tuesday at the bill signing.

The Charles County Democrat is himself a child sex abuse survivor, having been abused by his adoptive father.

Matt Bush
Delegate C.T. Wilson speaks in Annapolis Tuesday before the bill signing with Gov. Wes Moore looking on.

“I’m not speaking for all the survivors, but I am speaking for some of them,” Wilson said Tuesday. “Who unintentionally left a trail of misery and sadness in their wake. As we struggle every day just to make it to the next day. So for those I have hurt, I wish you could be here. I’m not brazen enough to ask for forgiveness. But maybe you’d understand.”

Wilson’s personal reflections have been at the front and center of the push for the bill this year. And they were again Tuesday as it was signed into law.

“For me, and for so many survivors, there should be so many more people standing up here,” he said through tears. “Not just those who helped. But in my case were some part of my hell. My wife. My children. My ex-wives. My ex-girlfriends. Friends and family, people who have suffered because of my childhood. My neglect. My emotional unavailability.”

Wilson and other supporters have long sought this change, but this year they received what may have been the key boost that pushed the measure over the finish line in the form of a new Attorney General.

Anthony Brown, who took office in January, sent lawmakers a legal opinion saying his office could ‘in good faith’ defend the bill in court should it be challenged as unconstitutional.

That was a break with his predecessor in the attorney general’s office, Brian Frosh, who was unsure if the repeal would withstand legal challenges.

“There’s a lot of precedent for eliminating the statute of limitations. Many states have done that,” Brown told WYPR Tuesday after the bill signing. “The federal government has done that. That’s certainly persuasive precedent. When you consider the nature of the crime, child sexual abuse, where so often the victim survivor is unable to make a claim let alone retell the story, it only makes sense that you eliminate the statute of limitations.”

In his letter to lawmakers, Brown cited a 1991 law the General Assembly passed that still stands today which allowed more people to bring civil suits for exposure to asbestos.

Matt Bush spent 14 years in public radio prior to coming to WYPR as news director in October 2022. From 2008 to 2016, he worked at Washington D.C.’s NPR affiliate, WAMU, where he was the station’s Maryland reporter. He covered the Maryland General Assembly for six years (alongside several WYPR reporters in the statehouse radio bullpen) as well as both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. @MattBushMD
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