Senate passes bills to prevent child abuse, eliminate statute of limitation in sex assault cases

  • Members of the N.H. Senate stand for the Pledge of Allegience as they gather for a session on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire. The 24 N.H. Senators met in the N.H. House Chamber while adhering to social distancing rules due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • New Hampshire Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord), center, gestures as he speaks Senate Chief of Staff Donald Manning, right, on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire. The 24 N.H. Senators met in the N.H. House Chamber while adhering to social distancing rules due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Published: 6/17/2020 5:19:33 PM

One of the many bills passed by the State Senate this week requires all school employees to be trained on preventing child sex abuse.

Another bill would eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault.

The pair were included in larger packages of bills related to safety in schools and revisions to the state sexual assault laws.

The school bill requires districts to provide training to all employees and volunteers every two years in how to prevent child sex abuse. The training includes how to identify warning signs of sex abuse in children and training on reporting requirements.

New Hampshire law already requires teachers to do this training every two years, but this bill expands it to include all employees and school volunteers who undergo criminal background checks, including educators, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodial staff and volunteer organizations who contract with the schools.

In a hearing on the bill Jan. 28, Joy Barrett from the Granite State Children’s Alliance said people who work in education are the largest reporters of child abuse in New Hampshire, but many of them receive little to no training on recognizing the signs of child abuse or the role they hold as mandated reporters.

The bill comes about a week in advance of the 100-page report that is due to be released about the Concord School District’s handling of reports of sexual misconduct by a former teacher.

However, the bill does not apply to bus drivers. Another bill that passed in the same package of education legislation on Tuesday removed bus drivers and transportation monitors from the category of school employees that must undergo criminal background checks, and thus from the category of employees who complete abuse training. Instead, the Department of Education will be responsible for certifying bus drivers.

The Senate also passed a bill requiring schools to create safety plans for responding to violent acts committed by students against school employees, volunteers and visitors. The schools must report instances of assault to the local school board and to the Department of Education for data collection.

Sexual assault bills

In another sweeping package of reforms, the Senate voted Tuesday to pass House Bill 705, an omnibus of legal changes to the sexual assault statutes. Chief among them: The ability for New Hampshire residents to bring action against sexual abusers at any time.

Presently, New Hampshire law limits the ability to bring sexual assault actions for those who were under 18 at the time of the abuse. Civil action must be brought with 12 years of the incident, or within three years of realizing the causal relationship of the abuse.

The new proposed law would eliminate those limits, and the under-18 stipulation, meaning anyone could bring any civil case of sexual abuse at any time.

In a post on its website, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence praised the legislation and chance to strengthen state law.

“Arbitrary timelines only serve to protect predators,” the organization said. “The right to justice should not have an expiration date.”

The bill came after a sustained advocacy campaign, said Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition’s director of public affairs.

“Numerous senators remarked that they heard from an extraordinary amount of survivors who contacted the senate urging them to pass this critical legislation that will ensure protections for victims of sexual assault,” said Grady Sexton in an interview Wednesday. “We will be working closely with the house to earn their support for these measures.”

That portion of the bill passed 19-5.

The package also removes exceptions to sexual assault offenses for legally married spouses in New Hampshire law and requires colleges and universities to install new measures to prevent and respond to sexual assault.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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