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DES MOINES --- Charges of sexual assault and other sexual crimes against minors could be tried at any time under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

The proposal would eliminate Iowa’s current statute of limitations on those crimes.

Currently, sexual assault charges must be brought within 10 years of the alleged victim turning 18 years old or within three years of an alleged perpetrator being identified by DNA evidence.

The proposal to eliminate that statute of limitations is working its way through the Iowa Capitol in the wake of the latest round of revelations of decades-old sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests against minors, most recently in Northwest Iowa.

The Sioux City diocese on Monday released the names of 28 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 100 children while serving the diocese, which covers 24 counties in Northwest Iowa. Six of the priests are still living, but the most recent case of abuse occurred in 1995. 

“We continue to see case after case unfold of predators who have been allowed to continue preying on our children,” said Janet Petersen, a Democratic state senator from Des Moines. “Our laws not only benefit perpetrators, but they also benefit organizations that have covered up crimes against children, and that is simply wrong.

“I’m hoping that the more public attention that’s drawn to this, maybe we’ll get more support to change our laws, not only to help survivors, but also to prevent perpetrators from continuing to prey on children. We shouldn’t be a sanctuary state for predators.”

Petersen was one of three state senators who approved the proposal Thursday in an Iowa Senate subcommittee meeting. Amy Sinclair, a Republican state senator from Allerton, said she expects the proposal to pass through the Senate’s judiciary committee before a key legislative deadline next week.

The Iowa Senate has passed similar proposals before, but they have not been taken up in the Iowa House. Sinclair said she has not discussed the topic with House leaders.

“I think it’s an important issue to talk about in light of where society’s coming,” Sinclair said.

The lone organization opposing the bill is the American Civil Liberties Union, according to records of lobbying groups registered with the Legislature.

The Iowa Catholic Conference is not registered on the bill.

Petersen said she also thinks lawmakers should pass a similar extension or elimination of the statute of limitations on civil charges related to sex-based offenses against minors.

“Our current law benefits organizations and it gives them an opportunity to cover up crime without any financial implications,” Petersen said. “If we extend the civil statute of limitations, those laws that allow them to cover up and run the clock out would disappear for them.”

Republicans hold the majority and thus set the agenda in the Iowa Senate. Sinclair said she is focused on the criminal statute of limitations and does not plan to run the bill that would also address the civil statute.

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