This week, the Arizona legislature passed its 120th day of session, which, as this article from KJZZ, points out, means the legislators might have to start having to start skipping their afternoon lattes, as their per diems have been cut from $60 to $20 for out-of-county legislators and $35 to $10 for those from Maricopa. The per diem cut is meant to be an incentive for legislators to get things wrapped up quickly, but as it stands right now there is no definite end in sight as June is coming quickly on the horizon.
What is causing the holdup? Well, with slim majorities in both houses and a firm commitment to not working in a bipartisan manner and letting Democrats in on negotiations, the Republicans have little margin for disagreement within their own caucus and several Republicans in both houses are unhappy right now and unwilling to sign on to a budget from their leadership.
According to an anonymous source with knowledge of the negotiations, some Senate Republicans are reportedly backing the “Bradley Budget” proposed by Democrat and Senate minority leader David Bradley, while many House Republicans are complaining about being shut out of the process by the small and secretive group working on the House Republican proposal.
In the Senate, one of the Republicans who has been most vocal in his refusal to sign on to the budget is Paul Boyer of LD 20. Boyer has said he won’t vote for any budget until the Senate allows a vote on his bill, SB 1255, which extends the statute of limitations for civil suits by survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Why is this seemingly uncontroversial piece of legislation now threatening the entire budget?
Justice for Abuse Survivors
Currently, someone who has been sexually abused as a child has only until the age of 20 to sue their abusers or others who allowed the abuse to happen. Boyer’s bill would extend the statute of limitations until seven years after discovery, which means the point at which they should reasonably know they were harmed. A similar bill, a strike-all amendment to SB 1101, would give survivors until the age of 30.
The wisdom of such an extension should be obvious to anyone who has watched the news for the past few years. To take one obvious example, the horrible abuse of girls and young women by Dr. Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and for the USA Gymnastics program continued for decades due to institutional malfeasance which included, among other things, gaslighting victims and their families into believing his abuse was a legitimate medical procedure. We now know of incidents of abuse by Nassar that date to at least the mid-90s if not earlier. Under Arizona law, the majority of Nassar’s victims, including the large number who did not even realize they were being abused for years, would not be allowed to sue Nassar for damages nor the institutions that allowed his abuse to happen.
Survivors of any kind of sexual abuse often take years, if not decades, to come to terms with their abuse. For children, this is even more so, especially when the abuse is done by a trusted adult who has the sanction of institutions like one’s school, church, or sports team. Protecting childhood sexual abuse survivors seems like a noncontroversial issue that both Democrats and Republicans should support. And given that this session has already been marked by the exposure of former Representative David Stringer’s history of sexually abusing children, this would seem like a good time for the legislature to do something for abuse survivors. So what’s the problem?
Eddie’s Hill to Die On
Well the problem, as it so often is in the Arizona Senate, is our old friend Eddie Farnsworth. Farnsworth is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and, as he often likes to do with bills that are popular but he personally doesn’t like, he buried Boyer’s bill by never giving it a hearing.
As Elizabeth Whitman wrote for the New Times, there are a few reasons Farnsworth could be opposing the bill. The first is pretty straightforward: he’s a corporate shill and the bill is opposed by the insurance industry, which would have to pay the settlements in many of these cases, especially those involving institutions. And because protecting the bottom line of insurance companies over the rights of childhood abuse survivors is a bad look, he would rather bury the bill and not defend his position on it.
But as Whitman points out, there are some even darker possible reasons.
- First, Farnsworth, a member of one of the most prominent families in the East Valley, has a nephew, Albert Farnsworth, currently serving 30 years in prison for kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old girl in 2003. Albert had a long history of violent and disturbing behavior and prior arrests before the 2003 rape, which he admitted to, but had served no serious jail time. It makes you wonder if his last name was what helped keep him out of serious trouble and if Uncle Eddie, in opposing Boyer’s bill, is thinking about the possibility of other families who cover up abusive behavior being held liable in court.
- And then there’s the church. The Farnsworths are longstanding members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and are one of the most important families in the Valley’s LDS community. At the same time Eddie is blocking Boyer’s bill, the LDS church is facing new scrutiny for its practices and handling of sexual abuse by church members. In recent years, ex-Mormons have shed light on the practice of “worthiness interviews,” in which teenage members, both male and female, are asked explicit questions in private about their adherence to the church’s sexual code of conduct by Mormon bishops, lay clergy who are always male and usually middle-aged or older. Many ex-church members have called the practice abusive. And then at the beginning of this month, Vice News revealed that a hotline set up by the church to deal with sexual abuse cases was used primarily to tip off the church’s lawyers to potential liabilities.
- Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Eddie, as you probably know, is the founder of Benjamin Franklin Charter Schools, which he famously cashed out on handsomely last year. In April, The Arizona Republic’s Craig Harris published an investigation that showed that charters, with their lax state oversight and opaque business practices, are especially prone to problems of sexual abuse and often leave abuse survivors and parents with no recourse for complaints to the school board or state Charter Board. No recourse, that is, except possibly filing a civil suit.
So Eddie Farnsworth’s church looks like it may be on the verge of a reckoning with its institutional neglect on the issue of sexual abuse similar to the one that has rocked the Catholic Church. And his family excused his nephew’s violent behavior until he raped a 12-year-old girl. And the charter school industry, which he is a prominent member of, leaves abuse victims with no recourse but to sue. It’s probably just a coincidence then that he didn’t give a hearing to this bill introduced by one of this fellow Republicans, which is now making it harder for the legislature to do its most central duty and pass a budget that funds the state government. Opposing justice for victims of childhood sexual abuse is quite the hill to die on, but that’s our old friend Eddie for you.