HELENA — A bill to change Montana's child sexual abuse laws, including lifting the statute of limitations for prosecuting such crimes, was signed Tuesday by Gov. Steve Bullock.
The bill , sponsored by Democratic Rep. Shane Morigeau, also extends from 21 to 27 the age deadline by which a victim of child sexual assault has to file a lawsuit against their abuser.
It also opens a one-year window of opportunity for victims to file lawsuits against their abuser, even if the statute of limitations has otherwise expired.
Another key provision says mandatory child abuse reporters can be charged with a felony for failing to report child sexual abuse.
The sexual abuse bill, which takes effect immediately, includes elements from three bills that were introduced, in part, because of two eastern Montana cases that frustrated prosecutors.
One case involves a former athletic trainer at Custer County High School in Miles City who has acknowledged sexually abusing student-athletes from the late 1970s to 1998 under the guise of improving their athletic performance.
Reports said he contacted some of his victims via social media shortly after the expiration of the current statute of limitations, which says prosecution must occur within 20 years after a victim turns 18.
James "Doc" Jensen pleaded guilty on March 12 to federal charges alleging he used information gathered online to coerce young boys into sexual activity by claiming it would improve their athletic performance.
His public defender, Steve Babcock, said his client would acknowledge there were probably 100 victims. Jensen could face up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in July.
The bill also retains a provision that allows people to file a civil claim against their abuser within three years after they discover or reasonably should have discovered they suffered harm from sexual abuse as a child.
In another case prompting the legislation, the Montana Supreme Court — relying on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision — said the state could not prosecute a man whose DNA matched evidence collected after an 8-year-old Billings girl was raped in 1987 because the statute of limitations had run out before the DNA match was made. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year declined to reconsider its 2003 ruling.
Bullock also signed bills Tuesday:
- Making it illegal for school employees or volunteers to have a sexual relationship with a student, even if the student has reached 16, the legal age of consent.
- Prohibiting vaping and the use of other nicotine alternatives in schools
- Requiring background checks for assisted living facility employees
- Offering tax credits for production companies filming in Montana