Civil lawsuit bill for sexual assault victims still in Alabama House committee
Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, stands on the floor of the Alabama Senate on March 7, 2023. Legislators gathered Tuesday for the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
A bill that would give sexual assault victims new opportunities to file civil lawsuits remains stuck in committee with just nine days left in the legislative session.
The bill, SB 127, has slowed over concerns from insurance companies about how the bill would affect them, according to Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, the bill’s sponsor, and Stuart Vance, a survivor of sexual abuse who helped Coleman with the legislation.
“I still have not heard anything from the insurance companies yet,” Coleman said on Thursday in an interview. “I want to give them the opportunity to have that conversation, but my intent is for the bill to come back up next week. That would be really nice.”
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The bill gives victims a two-year window to file civil claims against those who sexually abused them even if the statute of limitations on their case has run out.
The legislation would also extend the statute of limitations for filing a civil claim from six years to 36 years after the victim has reached the age of 19. Under the legislation, victims of sexual abuse would be allowed to file lawsuits until age 55. Under current law, victims must file a suit by the time they are 25 years old.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from sexual assault survivors Wednesday as part of a public hearing on the legislation.
Vance, one of three men who accused a former Randolph School teacher of abusing them in the 1970s and 80s, worked with Coleman to draft the legislation and told it of his ordeal.
“I didn’t tell anyone at the time what happened to me,” he said during his testimony. “A combination of fear and embarrassment kept me quiet then and in the intervening years. In 2018, I decided I could no longer let that abuse have control over me.”
He said that the criminal legal system does little to offer accountability to perpetrators, so most rely on civil actions to hold them responsible.
Vance said at Wednesday’s hearing that insurance companies have misgivings about the cost of the bill. No representatives from insurance companies spoke during the hearing.
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“If SB 127 becomes law, the insurance industry is certainly likely to lose some money in the coming years,” Vance said during Wednesday’s public hearing. “Experience in other states, however, shows that courts and the insurance industry will not be overwhelmed by other lawsuits and other insurance payments.”
Several committee members Wednesday urged Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, the committee chair, to move the bill forward.
“Mr. Chairman, I found out over the years the best way to get talking going, is to move it,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “I think that this committee, we have been moving all other bills out of this committee without it going anywhere. If you want people to come to the table, let’s move it.”
Barfoot said Wednesday that he had only planned a public hearing and declined to vote on the measure that day.
“It wasn’t getting stalled,” Barfoot said in a Thursday interview. “We set it for a public hearing only yesterday in committee, and that is what we had. We’ll see what happens with it after that.”
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