FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers have taken another step toward closing a legal loophole blamed for shielding sexual predators whose young victims can’t say exactly when and where they were abused.
The measure sailed through the Senate on a 36-0 vote Thursday. A similar bill cleared the House last week. Each measure must go to the other chamber for action.
Eventually, lawmakers will have to decide which version to keep moving toward potential final passage.
“I don’t care which one lands on the governor’s desk,” said Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, lead sponsor of the Senate bill. “I just want it to be the law. I want these victims to be protected from the predators that seek them out because of this gap in the law.”
The House bill’s lead sponsor is Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins.
The measures also would apply to cases of repeated sexual abuse against adults who are vulnerable due to health or disability.
The bills stem from a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling last year overturning the conviction of a man accused of sexually assaulting his 6-year-old stepdaughter multiple times over a five-month period while the child’s mother was deployed with the military.
In her testimony, the child was unable to say specifically when and where it happened.
The measures would close the loophole by creating a “continuous course of conduct” law.
That would allow children or vulnerable adults to testify to a pattern of abuse without being penalized for not remembering the exact dates and places the abuse occurred.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is among those urging lawmakers to pass the measure to help prosecutors crack down on sex crimes.
“The reality is that it is difficult for victims, especially children, to differentiate the assaults by time or place because they occur with such horrific frequency and in the same setting,” Beshear said.
If the bill becomes law, juries would still be required to find beyond a reasonable doubt that two or more acts of abuse occurred, he said. “But we will not be hampered from bringing cases just because the child cannot accurately testify to the exact date of the offense,” he added.
The Senate bill was amended Thursday to apply the “continuous course of conduct” standards to situations in which a child was abused but the case didn’t surface until years later when the alleged victim is an adult.
“I think that’s fair because they’re not testifying about something that happened to them when they were an adult,” Westerfield said. “They’re testifying about something that happened when they were a child.”
The Senate legislation is Senate Bill 60. The House legislation is House Bill 109.