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Lawmakers unveil bills to remove time limits on pursuit of child molesters

HELENA – State lawmakers unveiled a pair of bills Tuesday to remove any time limits on taking legal action against child molesters, saying it’s time for Montana to bring abusers of children to justice.

“There should not be a clock on kids, when it comes to justice,” said Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, who is sponsoring one of the bills.

“We’ve seen all these abuses, across this state, across this country,” added John Heenan, a Billings lawyer representing 31 people suing a former Miles City high school athletic trainer accused of sexually abusing them while they were students. “It’s high time that child molesters and pedophiles stand justice for what they do.”

Billings attorney John Heenan

Dunwell’s House Bill 109 removes the statute of limitations for prosecuting anyone accused of sexually molesting someone under 18. Under current law, charges must be brought within 20 years of the victim turning 18.

Dunwell said her bill, if enacted, would be retroactive, meaning that abusers whose crimes occurred more than 20 years ago could be prosecuted.

“It’s not OK that a perpetrator can circle a date on a calendar, post on Facebook `I’m off the hook,’ and sleep easy for the rest of his or her life, and that child victim, into adulthood, is haunted for a lifetime,” she said.

Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, is sponsoring House Bill 202, which says victims of child sexual abuse can sue their abusers for damages at any time. State law now says such lawsuits must be filed within three years of the crime or within three years of when the victim “discovers that the injury was caused” by the abuse.

Heenan said child molesters shouldn’t be able to use the statute of limitations to escape justice.

“(This bill) is to ensure that when these children that are abused become young men and young women, and have the courage to stand up … the doors of justice are open to them,” he said.

Morigeau also said while he and Dunwell are Democrats, the issue is not partisan, and should be supported by lawmakers from both parties.

Dunwell’s bill was heard Tuesday morning in the House Judiciary Committee and Morigeau’s bill is scheduled for a hearing Friday.

Mike Dennison

Mike Dennison

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