A proposal that would extend the statute of limitations for failure to report child abuse failed in a state Senate committee Wednesday.
State Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat, proposed the legislation in the shadow of the indictments of three Prairie Middle School administrators, accused of failing to report a student’s allegation in 2013 that a teacher sexually assaulted her. According to the indictment, the administrators pressured the student to recant her story, then suspended her. In 2017, the teacher, Brian Vasquez, was arrested after police said he confessed to abusing that student and several others after her.
Legal experts have speculated to Denver7 Investigates the case against the three Prairie administrators may ultimately fall apart because of the 18-month statute of limitations for the crime. The Fields legislation would have extended that to five years, but the state veterans and military affairs committee voted to kill the legislation on a 3-2 party line vote.
“Emotionally, I’m very disappointed. It takes my breath away because all over Colorado we have kids that are in vulnerable situations. This is a way for us to protect our kids and they said no,” Fields said after the vote.
District attorney George Brauchler, whose office is prosecuting the three Prairie Middle School administrators, testified in favor of the legislation and was unhappy to see it fail.
“If you keep that secret for 18 months and one day, you don't have to worry about criminal consequences. That should never be the system, we have to protect our kids. This bill was a challenge to extend greater protections to kids and they chose not to,” Brauchler said.
Republican Senator Owen Hill voted against the bill and pointed out that Brauchler’s office was able to bring grand jury indictments against the Prairie administrators despite the statute of limitations.
“I want to wait and see what happens with this court case. If for whatever reason the charges he’s brought forth don’t apply, I think ... maybe it’s time to have this discussion again. But until then obviously it has not limited their ability to bring charges on mandatory reporters longer than 18 months after the statute of limitations has run out. So I’d like to see where that goes first,” Hill said.
“Unfortunately, this bill does nothing to protect kids. All this does is change the timeline in which you can go back after somebody that didn't report. That doesn't help kids, that’s after the fact,” Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg said before voting no.