The morning after a Senate committee voted down his Hidden Predator Act of 2019, Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) wasn’t certain he had the energy to come to the office.
“It’s exhausting. It’s physically and mentally exhausting,” said Wilson, a victim of childhood sex abuse who has led the charge for extensions of Maryland law.
“God has a plan, I’m not really sure what that is,” Wilson said with a heavy sigh. “…I’m tired right now.”
Wilson’s House Bill 687 would have ended Maryland’s statute of limitations for civil claims against perpetrators of child sex abuse – and would also include a two-year look-back window, a time in which victims could bring claims in cases where the previous statute of limitations has expired.
Sponsored by half of the House Judiciary Committee, the bill was voted out of the House of Delegates 135-3 last month.
But the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee deliberations on Wednesday night were focused on the constitutionality of the measure and concerns about whether accused abusers and organizations could properly defend themselves against complaints decades later, when the alleged perpetrators may be long dead or out of power.
“How does one defend themselves against that sort of civil suit?” asked Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick), who voted against the bill, which failed to move after the committee deadlocked 5-5.
Hough said lawmakers had worked two years ago to pass a prior bill from Wilson that extended the statute of limitations until victims reached age 38.
Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) said it was difficult to vote against the measure, but the current statute is the longest in Maryland civil law and, if an abuser is convicted criminally, all victims have a three-year window to pursue civil claims, no matter their age.
“It’s heartbreaking to disappoint [the advocates], but I really feel our law in its current form is enough,” Carter said.
Wilson said a longer statute of limitation is needed because many victims struggle for years, as he did, to reckon with what happened to them as children. And, he said, the lookback window, which has held up to legal scrutiny in other states so far, would help to reveal those who have abused minors for years.
“There are a lot of pedophiles who have gotten away with it … and that are still getting away with it,” Wilson said. “And there’s nobody there to expose them.”
The conclusion of Judicial Proceedings members that the provisions were unconstitutional infuriated Wilson.
He said the discussion at the voting session, which he observed until he became too angry and frustrated to continue watching, struck him as a “spoof.”
“Like, somehow, if a plaintiff files a case, he automatically wins it. They talked about the evidence getting old and how impossible it is to defend yourself after 50 years,” Wilson said. “No. It’s the other way around. Eroding evidence makes it more difficult for the plaintiff to win a case. Because you have to have evidence.”
Wilson said he was also disappointed with the voting session because senators had several questions about the bill’s constitutionality, but didn’t ask any questions of a panel of constitutional experts he’d brought in for a bill hearing last week.
“Not a peep,” he said. “…They sat up there to crickets.”
Wilson said he thought the committee should move the bill forward and let courts address the finer points of law.
“We’re not judges. Our job is to show the intent of the people. Let the courts decide the rest,” Wilson said.
Asked Thursday whether he was inclined to introduce the bill next year, Wilson responded: “If you ask me right now … hell no. Why would I do this again to myself? But I know that, of course, I’ll probably try again. Because they deserve it. These folks deserve to know that somebody’s trying to fight for them.”
There’s another goal for reintroducing the bill again, too.
“I want these predators to be terrified. Looking over their shoulder for the rest of their lives,” Wilson said. “For the destruction they caused, I want them to be nervous as hell that this bill might pass one day.”