Juanice Gray | Editor
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill June 14 that didn’t make a lot of headlines or create a lot of chatter, but has the potential to change a lot of lives. HB 492 by Rep. Jason Hughes became Act. 322 when the governor penned his name to the document that was backed unanimously by both branches of the legislature, a rare feat in and of itself.
“The legislation removes the prescriptive period to bring a civil action against a person for sexual abuse of a minor or physical abuse of a minor resulting in permanent impairment or permanent physical injury or scarring. Previously the prescriptive period was 10 years,” explained District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington. “While the impact of the legislation may not significantly affect our office due to us handling criminal prosecutions, there could potentially be new civil suits filed by those who were victims of abuse years ago when they were a minor, some of which may result in criminal investigations.”
Prescriptive periods are time limits that set forth the maximum period of time after an event that legal proceedings may be initiated.
Among the authors of the bill is Rep. Jack McFarland, R, Dist. 13 covering parts of Bienville, Jackson, Ouachita and Winn Parishes. He said he had no reservations in becoming a co-author. “It moved me as a person,” he said.
McFarland said Hughes’ bill requested the prescriptive period be extended, but once the bill reached the senate, Sen. Cameron Henry amended the bill to no time limit. “When Henry put that language to the bill, it made it go all the way back. It explained that these organizations who knew (the abuse was happening or had happened), but didn’t say anything are no longer protected,” McFarland said. “If you’re not doing something about it, you’re perpetrating it.”
He further said these young victims need therapy, both physical and mental in many cases, and at times the money isn’t there to provide those services. He believes the bill will help provide the funding to victims for those services.
“These children’s lives are changed forever. These children are permanently scarred, so the organizations who knew and allowed it to happen should be permanently accountable,” McFarland said. “I am in favor of the Act and any measure that provides support and remedies for a victim,” added Harrington.
Present law defines “crime against the child” as the commission, or attempted commission, of any of the following crimes against an unemancipated minor:
5. Sexual battery.
7. Criminal neglect.
8. Criminal abandonment.
9. Carnal knowledge of a juvenile.
10. Indecent behavior with juveniles.
11. Pornography involving juveniles.
12. Molestation of a juvenile.
13. Crime against nature.
14. Cruelty to juveniles.
15. Contributing to the delinquency or dependency of children.
16. Sale of minor children.
17. Human trafficking.
18. Trafficking of children for sexual purposes.
19. Female genital mutilation.