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Senate passes law as deadline looms for some Ohio sexual abuse survivors to get settlement funds

A close-up of a Boy Scout uniform is photographed on Feb. 4, 2013, in Irving, Texas.
Tony Gutierrez
A close-up of a Boy Scout uniform is photographed on Feb. 4, 2013, in Irving, Texas.

Ohioans who were sexually abused by Boy Scouts of America leaders are one step closer to being able to apply for the full financial relief available to them as a result of a bankruptcy settlement against the organization.

The Ohio Senate voted unanimously to pass House Bill 35, referred to as the "Scout's Honor Law," which would raise a civil statute of limitations to allow Ohio survivors of Boy Scout sexual abuse to receive larger settlements from the organization.

The wait for this bill to get consideration in the upper chamber of the Ohio General Assembly took nine months since the bill floundered in the last lame duck session in January.

Chris Graham, a childhood sexual abuse survivor and advocate, says as soon as Gov. Mike DeWine's pen leaves the paper, survivors will be able to file their claim for a piece of the settlement money. He says the Ohio Senate passing the bill is exciting and meaningful and helps survivors get the same relief those in other states will receive.

"Survivors of child sexual abuse and Boy Scouts in Ohio should get the same opportunities for justice as survivors from any other state. Period. That's what Scout's Honor does and Representative (Bill) Seitz fought for this in ways that blew my mind," Graham said.

The settlement allows survivors to either seek a $3,500 payment or pursue review of their situation or get assessed on how severe and frequent the abuse they faced was for a different amount, which would be impacted by Ohio's laws on statute of limitations.

Graham praised Seitz, a Republican and joint sponsor and fellow Cincinnati-area Rep. Jessica Miranda, a Democrat, for their efforts to pass this bill and shepherd it through both chambers. He said prior to its passage Wednesday that this moment means a lot to him.

"The reason you get into public service is to serve people who have gotten the short end of the stick. Like these Boy Scout survivors. Like survivors of child sexual abuse, like survivors of rape" Graham said.

The bill will take immediate effect once signed, because it was passed with an emergency clause that was not included in the Ohio House version that passed earlier this year.

Now the bill goes back to the Ohio House for another consideration. The House passed the law unanimously in March.

Ohio's civil statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse currently ends at age 30.

The Scout's Honor Law would ensure that survivors in Ohio will get 100% of their settlement rather than 30 to 45%.

In a bankruptcy settlement, the Boy Scouts of America set aside nearly $3 billion for more than 82,000 sexual abuse survivors. About 1,900 of the survivors are in Ohio.

Under the settlement, survivors had to wait one year from the decision before filing a claim. That deadline is now in Octoberafter appeals and other developments pushed it back.

Miranda, the Democratic sponsor of the bill who is also a survivor of sexual abuse, said the bill did not move as quickly as she would have liked in the Senate, but this is one of the best outcomes survivors could have hoped for.

"It's the right thing to do. It's at the right time to do the right thing. And I hope we can move on from here after this win for survivors of child sexual abuse and do more things that benefit folks like me and folks like them who are survivors of child sexual abuse," Miranda said.

Miranda said the survivors who testified in favor of this bill should have respect given to them for going through this process more than once and having to offer this sometimes triggering and traumatic testimony more than once.

"As a survivor myself, we would prefer not to be in this situation. Right? I'm sure the trauma that these guys have endured. It's something they would have rather not had. They've been waiting years, even decades, for this opportunity for justice. And this is about them getting the full justice they deserve," Miranda said.

Miranda said her attention now turns to other laws to reform how Ohio deals with issues of sexual abuse and rape in the state. This law was narrowly tailored to the settlement with the Boy Scouts of America and it would sunset after five years. It only applies to organizations with a congressional charter like the Boy Scouts.

Graham said he expects the House to take up legislation again on Oct. 11. He said if the bill isn't passed in time, the sexual abuse survivors may only qualify for a fraction of the assistance.

"Our hope is on Oct. 11, when the House comes back to order, that will pass this unanimously again and then hopefully walk across the street and spend some time with Governor DeWine and the survivors that have come into town to watch this bill pass and to see him sign it into law," Graham said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.