The House Judiciary Committee launched an 11th-hour effort to move two high-profile stalled bills: one that would create an enhanced penalty when a pregnant woman is killed and another that would expand access to civil litigation for child sex abuse victims.
The committee voted 20-1 at a late afternoon meeting to amend a Senate bill from Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) to include compromise provisions from a bill by Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) that was voted down by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday.
Ready’s bill is called Laura and Reid’s Law and passed out of the Senate 46-1 earlier this session. As passed by the Senate, the measure authorizes a 10-year enhanced penalty for a person who commits a crime of violence against a woman when the assailant knows that the victim is pregnant. The primary House amendment would change language to apply when someone commits a crime against a woman they know or “believe to be” pregnant. The language resolves concerns about defining “life.”
The most significant change is that the committee added a lengthy amendment to Ready’s bill altering the civil statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases to allow victims to bring cases until the age of 58 – with a higher standard of proof for older cases – and creates a two-year look-back window, a time in which victims could bring claims in cases where the previous statute of limitations has expired.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) said the two issues come together under the nexus of protecting vulnerable populations.
He said the amendments also moderated both bills as they were introduced to keep each of them moving forward.
“We had two bills that I think the Senate and House were struggling with and couldn’t reach an agreement on,” said Moon, who introduced the amendment to the committee. “This amendment is an attempt to find a middle ground on both of those issues and put them into one bill that protects vulnerable populations generally. I hope this might get folks on the same page.”
Laura and Reid’s Law is named for Laura Wallen, a Howard County school teacher who was four months pregnant when she was killed in September 2017. She planned to name her son Reid; Wallen’s then-boyfriend was charged in the killing but was found dead in his Montgomery County jail cell on the day his trial was supposed to begin.
Wilson, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, has advocated for years to increase the civil justice opportunities for other victims. His Hidden Predator Act of 2019 was sponsored by half of the House Judiciary Committee and voted out of the House of Delegates 135-3 last month, but failed in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee – where Ready is a member – by a tie vote earlier this week.