Nancy Peverini, the Legislative Director of Consumer Advocates of California, has confirmed that USA Swimming has retained the lobbying firm of Nielsen Merksamer to oppose the passage of California state bill 131.
This bill would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages that haven’t been decided to finality as of January 1, 2014. For example, if abuse occurred in 1995, and the statute of limitations on the abuse case expired in 2005, under this law the victim could bring a damages case at any point.
According to our legal correspondent Ceci Christy, the basis for the new law is that the majority of victims don’t come forward until much later in life for a variety of reasons: trauma, humiliation, etc. The drafters of the bill question why victims should be punished monetarily for the consequences of the abuse by not allowing them the option of pursuing damages if they choose to after coming forward later in life.
USA Swimming released a statement in response to the news on the matter Friday evening that read:
“When USA Swimming created its Safe Sport program, our 100% commitment was to prevent abuse and keep athletes safe. We remain committed to that charge and abhor any abuse that happens to anyone. We have many components of this program, including background screens, educational programs, an updated Code of Conduct and Safe Sport leadership conference.
“With that said, we have concerns with California SB 131 and USA Swimming, on behalf of our current and future members, has engaged Nielsen Merksamer to work with us on opposing this bill in its current form. For example, this bill does not hold the abusers accountable and excludes governmental agencies even when they are the employer.”
The bill, drafted by State Senator Jim Beall, passed the California senate on May 29th, 2013. The California State Assembly will vote on the bill later this summer.
Supporters of the bill, including the National Center for Victims of Crime, say that the bill will “protect children and hold abusers and those who harbor them accountable.”
USA Swimming and the Catholic Bishops of California have both opposed this legislation. The Catholic Bishops of California said in a statement (which can be read in full here) that “If enacted, this bill offers no further protections to children nor does it increase criminal penalties for abusers. What it does do is expose the Church and other not-for-profit organization to unlimited liability.”
Other criticisms of the bill includes that it specifically protects public schools and other government-funded organizations from liability, but not non-profits.
The specific names assigned to lobby on USA Swimming’s behalf are Jim Gross and Gene Urbin.