A bill that removes time limits for prosecuting sexual assault of a minor has plenty of momentum in the Florida House. Meanwhile, its Senate sponsor who remains optimistic the bill will get moving in her chamber.
“HB 199 simply creates Donna’s Law, to remove all statute of limitations, and permit prosecution to be commenced at any time, for any sexual battery offense involving a victim younger than 18 years of age,” said Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis, who is backing the bill alongside her Republican colleague Scott Plakon in the House.
The measure is named after Donna Hedrick, who Plakon has spoken about at each of his bill’s stops.
“We named this bill Donna’s Law after the very brave Donna Hedrick, who lives in Orlando, and was sexually assaulted at Oak Ridge High School by her choral teacher,” Plakon said when introducing the bill in January. “But because of the statute of limitations, this man cannot be prosecuted.”
Proponents of the bill say various determining factors used to set different time limits on the sexual assault prosecution are needlessly confusing. Plakon agrees.
“There is a matrix we have in the packet, of 11 different situations that can happen, below minors, whether it was reported within 72 hours, whether they’re over 16 or under 16 … and it’s just very confusing,” Plakon told WFSU.
The Seminole County Republican says his bill would do away with that confusion:
“This takes all that, rolls it up, and says if you commit a sex offense against one of our minors, one of our children in our state – for the rest of your life … your life could change forever if they get a critical mass of evidence against you,” Plakon said.
The proposal has seen powerful testimony from several victims who were raped as a minor, and were unable to pursue charges later on. This week’s meeting of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee was no different:
“My name is Kim Jaime, and my earliest memories were at the age of 5, when my father came into my bedroom, doing things to me that I could not comprehend,” Jaime, who came to the Capitol from Plant City, told the House Panel. “These things (happened) to me until the age of 15.”
Jaime says the sexual abuse persisted. Like many victims, she felt powerless to report it.
“And these offenses took place many times every single week., We lived in three states, six jurisdictions. I did not report the crime until I was 50 years old,” Jaime said. “The main reason was, my father put fear in me.”
When she finally did report the crimes, it was too late under Florida law – something the bill looks to change.
“I missed statute of limitations in the state of Florida by 6 months,” Jaime said.
The House measure has passed two of three committees unanimously, with only the Judiciary panel to go before it reaches the full chamber. But the measure hasn’t moved quite as fast in the Senate.
This is the second year Senator Linda Stewart of Orlando has carried the bill. It passed its first committee stop prior to the start of session, during a committee week in October. But to this point has not yet gotten a second hearing. But Stewart thinks that could change by next week – and she thinks the House bill’s momentum is a good sign.
“I am sure, with the passage in the second committee over on the house side, that our second committee on the Senate side, will place this bill on agenda,” Stewart said Tuesday.
The Senate measure’s next stop is in the chamber’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Stewart says she likes what she’s heard from the panel’s chair:
“I have been in touch with Senator Brandes about putting that on the agenda, and I think that he is aware, and he is looking to find out when he can do that.”
Stewart thinks the emotional testimony from victims is a big part of what’s powering the proposal forward.
“You see with (Jeffrey) Epstein and these others that have been doing this for many, many years and nothing happening to them – it’s emboldening women to come forward and say ‘You know what? I’m going to say what’s happening to me, because I need people to know that this is not right, and it affects me emotionally, and it affects my life – I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.’”
Stewart says she hopes to know by the end of this week, if the measure can get on next week’s agenda.