Editorial Board

The SB 131 (Beall) bill recently passed in both houses of the California state legislature and will become law on Oct. 13 if Governor Jerry Brown does not use a veto. The bill would lengthen the statute of limitations on certain sexual abuse lawsuits, enabling more cases to be brought against a private institution such as educational institutions like the Claremont Colleges that employed the abuser.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AICCU), on whose Executive Committee sit three 5C officials, including Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga has actively lobbied against SB 131. According to an article printed in TSL this week all three 5C officials on the group's governing body personally agree that the law should not pass.

The basis for AICCU's opposition—which acts as a proxy for opposition from the 5Cs themselves thanks to their heavy involvement with the Association—is that the bill only addresses the statute of limitations for private institutions, leaving public ones such as the University of California schools unaffected. In practice, this means that there is a small number of sexual abuse victims who will be able to prosecute if their abuser was employed at a private institution and not if the abuser was employed at was a public institution.

The 5Cs should care about the ability of survivors to prosecute public bodies, but that concern should not affect our position on this specific bill. The argument proposed by AICCU and the 5C officials on its Executive Committee willfully ignores the reality that it is common practice to have separate bills concerning public and private organizations. That the bill address only private institutions is merely a product of standard practices in California government. This Editorial Board argues that the AICCU's argument is nothing more than a ruse to protect the interests of the colleges and universities it represents.

It would be purely speculative to guess what those interests might be, but the possibilities range from unpalatable to abhorrent. If  AICCU were truly interested in the well-being of survivors of sexual assault whose abuser was employed by a public institution, they could simply lobby for a corresponding bill pertaining to public institutions.

There is no need to kill this bill, because no one could be hurt by the new laws other than the institutions that could be the subject of new lawsuits. In fact, there are some survivors who would surely benefit from SB 131, while a successful campaign defeating it would officially silence them. The bill could net an overwhelmingly positive gain for survivors, and any claim to the contrary is rooted in either ignorance or ancillary purposes.

It is highly unlikely that the AICCU's opposition to SB 131 comes from ignorance. A group with as much lobbying experience and knowledge as the AICCU would be aware that a bill of this nature often addresses either public or private institutions, but not both.

Lobbying against the bill is much more likely to protect colleges from a public image disaster rather than it is to support survivors. If AICCU, and its 5C Executive Committee members, oppose this bill simply because simply because private institutions feel slighted that public institutions will not face the same rules in the short term, that seems like an awfully poor reason to harm survivors, specifically ones who might have a case against the colleges.

The 5Cs must do one of two things: support SB 131 in solidarity with survivors—even and especially any who might have been abused by a 5C employee–or support SB 131 and invest in a strong lobby to pass a similar bill for public institutions.