NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Senior Staff Writer
BENNINGTON - With lawmakers, law enforcement and prosecutors by his side, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation in Bennington Monday extending the statute of limitations for sexual crimes committed against children.
Sexual crimes committed against a child now have a 40-year statute of limitations. Until Monday's signing ceremony, Vermont law only allowed for prosecution of sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct and sexual exploitation of a minor within 10 years after the crimes were reported, or until a child turned 24.
Bennington County Chief Deputy State's Attorney Christina Rainville pushed for the legislation following the conviction of former assistant Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Rainville noted that eight of the 10 victims who came forward against Sandusky, would have been barred from seeking justice in Vermont because of the state's shorter statute of limitations.
"The result is phenomenal"
"It really took a lot of people, but the result is phenomenal. We're now going to be able to better protect today's children because when we have someone who committed crimes 40 years ago still having contact with children today, we can't protect today's children. This eliminates that huge problem with our law, so I'm very, very grateful for everyone's effort," Rainville said.
Shumlin, too, noted the impact the Sandusky case, which received extended media coverage across the country, had on passing the statute of limitations extension in Vermont. He said Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was also motivated by the case.
"It often takes years and years and years before the victim is ready, able or willing to talk about their trauma and ensure that justice is served. I know that Sen. Sears was motivated by this bill from not a crime that happened in Vermont but a crime that happened, as we all know, in Pennsylvania," Shumlin said.
"(Sears) saw a wrong and wanted to right it. We appreciate your hard work and dedication on this one," Shumlin added.
Sears said prosecutors, including Rainville, relayed stories of victims who have only been able to come forward many years after they were abused. Most of those cases could not be pursued, however.
"You couldn't prosecute under Vermont law today. Tomorrow, you will," Sears said.
It was unclear if the bill would make it through the Legislature this year. The Senate took action, passing it with the 40-year extension. The House then passed its own version eliminating the limit altogether. But members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were not comfortable of eliminating the limit entirely, Sears said.
Shumlin also praised Bennington Reps. Anne Mook, a Democrat, and Mary Morrissey, a Republican, for their efforts in the House. "There were some days in the House when we weren't quite so sure it was going to go forward, so we appreciate your hard work," he said.
But the main force behind the new statute of limitations was Rainville.
"A huge thank you to Tina Rainville, because frankly, without Tina, we wouldn't have gotten where we've gotten," Shumlin said. "We sign this bill for all of Vermont's kids and all the people who are working so hard in the field to keep them safe," Shumlin said, before signing the bill and handing the pen to Rainville.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at email@example.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami