New bill allows Boy Scouts sexual abuse victims to maximize settlement claims

By: - February 22, 2023 4:55 am

State Rep. Bill Seitz. Screenshot courtesy The Ohio Channel.

A bipartisan pair of Ohio House lawmakers are trying to extend the statute of limitations for Boy Scouts of America sexual assault victims. Similar legislation faltered last year in the state Senate, and the current version is even more narrowly tailored — to address the Boy Scouts and no one else.

The Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy settlement plan

Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy in 2020 after more than 80,000 people came forward with claims of childhood sexual assault. Under the terms of the bankruptcy, claimants’ settlement amount comes from the length of their state’s statute of limitations.

“To put the matter into perspective,” Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, described, “a Boy Scouts abuse claim in Alabama might be worth a minimum of $3,300 or maximum of $148,500, while the same claim in New York was worth a minimum of $60,000 or a maximum of $2.7 million.”

Miranda’s co-sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, explained under current Ohio law, claimants would receive “30-45%” of their potential share. But there’s a wrinkle — states have one-year post-settlement to adjust their statutes of limitations. Some parties are appealing the settlement plan, but it was initially finalized in September of 2022.

“So, it is possible that the effective time might be further delayed depending on the process of appeals,” Seitz said, “but nonetheless, we, to be safe, need to act between now and September 2023.”

Limitations misgivings

Miranda and Seitz drafted their proposal so it has little if any chance of affecting cases outside the Boy Scouts settlement. First, they eliminate the statute of limitations only for claims against a bankruptcy estate. Second, they limit it to congressionally chartered organizations.

“This effectively describes the Boy Scouts of America without actually saying so,” Miranda explained. After the hearing, Seitz added there are roughly 100 such organizations including groups like The American Legion.

Finally, Seitz and Miranda’s measure would sunset after five years.

Still, many conservatives worry about the prospect of rolling back the statute of limitations. Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, gave voice to those misgivings. He noted Miranda filed legislation in the previous session to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault altogether.

“There’s a certain ‘you give a mouse a cookie he’ll want a glass of milk,’” Stewart said. “We tend to be an incrementalist state, and you crack the door to this. How far do you open it the next time.”

Miranda, who is herself a sexual assault survivor, didn’t back away from her position, calling it the “bulk of the body of my work.” But she insisted the bill before the committee remains limited.

“We’re trying to solve this first,” she said. “And then of course, I will still be working on ways in which we can make Ohio a better state for survivors of not just sexual assault claims but of child sexual abuse, as well.”

Seitz chimed in that “I appreciate representative Miranda’s fervor for lifting the statute of limitations, and I can assure you that I have an equally ardent fervor not to.”

“But we agree on this,” he said, “And we are trying to find common ground where we can.”

Point of personal privilege

The ongoing row between supporters of Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens and Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Township, broke into the open before the committee concluded, too. Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, interjected with a point of personal privilege.

He took issue with chairman Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer’s comments in a recent Columbus Dispatch story. The Uhrichsville Republican criticized a caucus meeting Merrin called. Hillyer argued it was “bad taste,” and said he found it “convenient” Merrin’s timing lined up with a different meeting for committee chairs.

Holding printed copies of the emails, Ferguson said he wanted to “correct the record,” because Merrin’s announcement went out earlier.

“And so I have concern that myself or the other members may not get a fair shake in this committee or be kindly respected when our judgment is being called into question,” Ferguson said.

After Ferguson finished, Hillyer adjourned without comment. After the hearing, Hillyer brushed it off.

“My track record speaks for itself in running committees in the last general assembly,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that he wants to use this as a platform for trying to further his cause, but so be it right?”

“As my grandmother would say,” he added, “give it the five year test. If you’re not gonna remember it in five years, don’t worry about it.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.


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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.