Governor signs Bennet’s bill ending limitations for child sex crimes

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation that would remove the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes committed against minors has been signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, had been approved unanimously in both houses of the Legislature. It goes into effect immediately.

Until now, minor victims of sex crimes generally had 20 years after their 18th birthday to come forward and seek charges.

But Scott Cross, the brother of former House Minority Leader Tom Cross and one of the alleged victims of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, told a Senate committee earlier this year that it takes the average sex-abuse victim 42 years “before they’re able to deal with this.”

“When I was abused, I knew exactly what was happening. As a young man, the challenge that you deal with and the suffering, the pain and torture, I still deal with that almost 38 years later,” said Cross, now a banker in Wheaton. “It’s not something you talked about. You didn’t do anything about it. It was an awful situation.”

Hastert was never charged with any sex crimes because the statute of limitations had run out. But he was convicted of violating federal banking laws for paying hush money to one of four victims who prosecutors had identified.

Bennett said the legislation was his most significant accomplishment this year.

“We started this in 2016, so it took two General Assemblies to get through. That’s the first time we tried and couldn’t get it out and had to try again to get support,” he said. “I think there was so much suspicion when we first talked about it.”

At first, Bennett said, “Republicans, because of Speaker Hastert, were concerned that we were going to make a partisan issue of it. And some of what I heard from the Chicago delegation was that the church was concerned that this might become a witch hunt against the clergy. Once we had a series of subcommittee hearings in Chicago and Springfield and went through it and those worries were put aside, it was easier to build a coalition for it.”

Bennett said he was disappointed that Rauner didn’t hold a ceremony to sign the bill.

“I didn’t expect to get a call, but Scott Cross, I would have liked for him to be invited. That was a big thing for him to do that,” Bennett said. “I wish he had been in the room for the signing. I had told the governor’s staff earlier, ‘When you sign this, he should be there.'”

Bennett said “having some media around, it would have been a nice reminder, too. There are a lot of victims out there, a lot of survivors, who are still trying to figure out if they should come forward, or if anyone will believe them. This might have been a nice gesture of encouragement if the governor had made a statement or been a little more public about it.”

Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for Rauner, said the governor isn’t able to schedule ceremonies for all the bills he signs. “It was important for the governor to sign this bill into law,” she said. “There are hundreds of bills before him for review, and unfortunately it doesn’t always work with the schedule to allow for individual signing ceremonies for many of them.”

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