Washington State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, is defending his decision to kill a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecuting child rape.
The bill, HB 1657, passed the state House of Representatives unanimously before going to the Senate to be heard before the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.
Hargrove, chairman of the committee, said he decided not to have the bill heard in committee, ending its chance of becoming law, because the issue had been researched fewer than two years ago and the proposal did not pass.
The Sentencing Guideline Committee formed an ad-hoc committee to study the state’s sex offense statutes of limitations from 2008 to 2009 and found there is limited support for abolishing the statute of limitations.
Currently, victims of child rape have until their 28th birthdays to report the crime unless there is DNA evidence. In 2006, the Legislature extended the statute of limitations for sex offenses to allow for the filing of a case up to one year after identification of the perpetrator through DNA evidence. In 2008, they extended the statute of limitations until the victim’s 28th birthday and that’s where it will stay, Hargrove said.
Last fall a former Sequim pastor was convicted of raping a female family member over a period of seven years. The victim, now 14, testified at the trial along with two other family members who said they were sexually abused by Steven G. Welty, too. During the trial, Judge S. Brooke Taylor noted while he allowed the other family members to testify they were abused by Welty, he could not be prosecuted for the abuse of those two family members because the statute of limitations had expired.
State Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger, both D-Sequim, said they voted for the bill because they didn’t see a reason not to.
“My main reason (for voting for the bill) was I think at the time there were not too many valid arguments against it,” Van De Wege said. “That has changed since then.”
“We look-ed at the title and the bill analysis and it seemed like it made sense at the time but as Sen. Hargrove has done further research and talked to prosecutors, we have some valid concerns,” Tharinger added.
Hargrove said he spoke with prosecutors and they told him that without DNA evidence old child rape cases are almost impossible to convict.
In addition, victims’ advocate groups told him if people have unlimited time to report child rape, it allows the perpetrator to continue to prey on children.
“If you don’t bring that case early, you’ll get many more victims,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove said the changes made to the statute of limitations over the past five years were made after a rational, in-depth discussion.
“There’s no reason to use up the committee’s time to study an issue we just studied and decided against,” he said.
Van De Wege said he supports Hargrove’s decision and trusts his judgement.
“Sen. Hargrove has really worked to protect children and some people have claimed with his decision on this bill that he isn’t protecting children,” he said. “If you look over the 27 years of work he’s done, you’ll see that he does protect children.”