Bill to toughen laws against child sex abuse nears passage

Posted July 31, 2019 5:36 a.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2019 7:17 p.m. EDT

— Consequences could soon change statewide for sex offenders who try to lure children online.

The House voted 92-15 Wednesday for the Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement Act, or SAFE Child Act, sending it back to the Senate for one final legislative vote.

The measure would lead to tougher penalties for sex offenders who reach out to children on social media or use websites that prohibit sex offenders.

It would also allow victims to file lawsuits against offenders until they turn 38 years old. Currently, the statute of limitations expires at age 21, which supporters of the bill say is too little time, as some victims take decades to come to terms with abuse in their past.

The bill would also make it a misdemeanor to knowingly fail to report a suspected case of child abuse.

Although the proposal had overwhelming bipartisan support, it also drew criticism from both sides of the aisle on Wednesday.

Rep. Sarah Stephens, R-Surry, worried it would encourage people to go after deep-pocketed institutions like churches and schools in lawsuits, while Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, expressed concern about a provision that makes the extension of statute of limitations retroactive.

Meanwhile, Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said she was concerned the legislation would criminalize the 80 percent of sex offenders who don't re-offend.