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Senate votes to extend statute of limitations

Bill adds 12 years to child sex abuse reporting period

The state Senate voted yesterday to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims by 12 years, raising hopes the Legislature will send the governor a bill before it recesses for the summer.

The Senate approved a bill passed by the House late Wednesday that would increase the statute of limitations from 15 to 27 years after the accusers' 16th birthday, giving them until they are 43 to report sexual crimes.

The House bill would also require sex offenders to register at least 10 days before they leave prison, verify that they are living in a homeless shelter within 45 days of release, and, among other provisions, require the most dangerous sex offenders who fail to register to submit to lifetime community parole supervision.

``We feel that we've passed the most sweeping sex offender legislation since the inception of the sex offender registry," said Representative Tom Golden, a Lowell Democrat who has been one of the bill's main supporters. ``We're closing loopholes, increasing penalties, and expanding the opportunities for prosecutions. It's all done to protect our citizens from these heinous crimes."

The Senate's version of the bill requires the state to establish nursing homes and other facilities for the most dangerous sex offenders. It requires sex offenders to wear global positioning satellite devices while on probation.

It would also delay the clock on the statute of limitations if the accuser does not come forward because of threats of physical violence, physical or psychological injury caused by the abuse, or any period where the defendant prevents witnesses or evidence from being available.

Kyle Sullivan, a spokesman for House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, said he expects the legislation to be sent to Governor Mitt Romney by Monday.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's spokesman, said the governor wants to sign a bill that would extend the statute of limitations.

``The administration's preference is to lift the statute of limitations entirely for victims of child sexual abuse, but this represents progress, and we look forward to receiving the bill," said Fehrnstrom.

Ed Saunders, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, a lobbying organization that represents the Archdiocese of Boston, said the state's bishops support extending the statute of limitations.

He also said they would support delaying the statute of limitations as proposed by the Senate.

But he said they do not want to completely discard the statute of limitations.

``I think by eradicating the statute of limitations, you run into some due process issues," Saunders said. ``The accused must have the right to properly defend themselves."

Defense attorneys who represent accusers said the proposed legislation does not go far enough.

Carmen L. Durso, a Boston-based attorney who has represented more than 200 alleged victims of child sex abuse, said the bill should lengthen the statute of limitations for children 14 and older who have been sexually assaulted but not raped and for children age 16 and older who have been raped.

``The Legislature has made a very tentative step in the right direction, but in doing so, they have eliminated a group of people they have protected in the past," Durso said. ``That's a huge error, which I hope they will correct, and correct quickly."

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who has long pushed for such legislation, said he will continue to push the Legislature to scrap the statute of limitations for child sex abuse.

``Far too often, prosecutors in my office and across the state have met with grown men and women who needed decades to learn that the abuse and exploitation they suffered as children was not their fault, only to find that the legal clock had stopped ticking years earlier and that their abusers had avoided accountability for their crimes," he said.

``It is because those victims now have, if not all the time we would hope, then at least more time than they have previously had, that I believe this compromise was good and worthwhile," Conley said.

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