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High-profile sex assault survivor urges Colorado Senate Republicans to pass constitutional amendment

High-profile sex assault survivor urges Colorado Senate Republicans to pass constitutional amendment
High-profile sex assault survivor urges Colorado Senate Republicans to pass constitutional amendment 03:44

A constitutional amendment -- pushed by survivors of child sexual assault -- hangs in the balance at the Colorado State Capitol as Colorado Republicans line up against it.

The amendment would allow survivors to bring civil claims against their abusers and the institutions that cover up abuse, no matter how long ago it happened.

It takes two-thirds of both the Senate and the House to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. In the Senate, that means every Democrat and at least one Republican must vote yes. 

And right now, all Republicans are against the amendment unless institutions like the Catholic church, which opposes the measure, are exempt. But supporters say those who cover up the abuse are culpable, too. They turned up the heat on opponents with the help of a high-profile sex assault survivor.


Rachael Denhollander was the first of hundreds of former gymnasts to accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual assault.

"I call on every member of the Senate to coalesce around something that should be uncontroversial: Protect our children," Denhollander said at the State Capitol. 

She not only helped put Nassar behind bars for life; she also helped win multi-million dollar settlements against the institutions that covered up the abuse by changing the statute of limitations in Michigan. 

Denhollander now hopes to do the same in Colorado.

"Colorado's archaic statute of limitations has ensured that it is cheaper, more convenient and easier for corrupt institutions to harbor abusers and silence victims than it is to tell the truth and protect your own children," Denhollander continued. 

The state legislature passed a law lifting the statute of limitations three years ago, but the Colorado Supreme Court struck it down, saying the Colorado Constitution prohibits retrospective cases. While many Republican lawmakers helped pass the law, they are now refusing to refer the ballot measure unless institutions are exempt. 

State Sen. Paul Lundeen says it's one of the hardest votes he's taken.

"My colleagues and I have stood and stand with survivors," Lundeen said on the Senate floor. 

But Lundeen says changing the statute of limitations might violate due process protections and lead to more miscarriages of justice.

"Especially for institutions that may have had absolutely nothing to do with the crimes, which we all find so offensive," Lundeen continued. "As time passes, evidence can deteriorate, memories can fade and witnesses may no longer be available."

State Sen. Jessie Danielson and state Sen. Rhonda Fields -- sponsors of the amendment -- say changing the statute of limitations doesn't change the burden of proof. Danielson insists it just gives survivors a chance to hold abusers and those who protect them accountable. 

"Creating this narrow carveout to the [Colorado] Constitution's 1876 text is good policy," Danielson said next to Fields side-by-side on the Senate floor. 

Denhollander says Republicans are fearmongering. 

"It is critical not just from a justice standpoint for survivors that been harmed," Denhollander told CBS News Colorado. "This is their only avenue to justice. But it is also a critical from the standpoint of keeping the next generation safe." 

Two years ago, the legislature removed the statute of limitations going forward for sexual assault civil claims. The amendment -- if referred to the ballot and approved by voters -- would allow those who were abused as children to sue years after the abuse happened. Studies show half of child sex assault survivors don't come forward until they are in their 50s. 

Dozens of organizations on both sides of the political aisle support the bill, which passed the Senate on a voice vote but will fail when the recorded vote is taken unless at least one Republican votes with Democrats.

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