BISMARCK — North Dakota House lawmakers agreed to more than double the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes perpetrated against children Tuesday, Feb. 19, a move that a bill proponent said would help establish an offender's pattern of abuse.
House Bill 1425 would require that prosecution of sex crimes in which the victim was younger than 18 at the time of the offense begin within 21 years of the crime taking place, not 10 years as is currently in law.
The bill, championed by Edgeley Republican Rep. Mike Brandenburg, passed in a 89-4 vote and now moves to the Senate. It covers crimes ranging from sexual assault to solicitation of minors and others. The proposal comes after the 2015 Legislature extended the statute of limitations from seven years to its current 10-year window.
As introduced this year, the bill would have eliminated the statute of limitations altogether but was later amended. The bill doesn't change the existing state law allowing for prosecution within three years of a crime being reported to police or with DNA testing.
Brandenburg's bill would also require prosecutors and law enforcement to provide child sexual abuse victims who are more than 18 years old with a copy of their case report upon request. It also includes evidence preservation requirements.
Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, a bill co-sponsor, said scandals in the church, USA Gymnastics and elsewhere have made society more conscious of the issue. She said victims of crimes that fall outside of the statute of limitations face a lack of justice.
"We're out of our denial and now we're trying to say, 'What's a good, fair process?'" she said, adding that the bill adequately protects against false allegations.
The bill has been promoted by Brandenburg's wife, Lovice, who said she was sexually abused as a child but didn't come forward until her 40s, beyond the statute of limitations. She said victims often fear the shame and guilt of making their experiences known.
"This was a big win," she said of the House's vote.