Sex abuse survivors push for tough punishment bill at Texas Capitol

Survivors of sexual abuse want state senators to consider a stronger bill than one the Texas House passed earlier this month.

Three gymnasts and their attorney were at the capitol on Monday to support the Senate bill that extends the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits from 15 to 30 years. The House passed a similar bill but carved out a provision that would have made it easier to sue institutions, like the abuser's employer.

A Texas Senate committee heard from a number of individuals. The most poignant though came from three women abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at the Karoyli Ranch training facility near Huntsville, Texas.

Plano-native Alyssa Baumann described the abuse she suffered under former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

“When I was 16 years old representing USA at the World Championships in China -- I was told to go to a hotel room to seek treatment from Nassar everyday with little or no supervision,” Baumann testified.

She was joined by two of her fellow gymnasts who also say they were abused at the famed Karolyi Ranch training facility near Huntsville. Last year, a Walker County Grand Jury indicted Nassar for child sex abuse at the facility.

The survivor's testimony before the Senate Committee on State Affairs gave perspective on legislation working its way through the statehouse. House Bill 3809 extends the statute of limitations from 15 to 30 years in civil cases, giving survivors of sexual abuse more time to file claims.

“What this does, though, is it makes sure the doors to the courthouse aren't automatically slammed shut, the case can still be brought,” said State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

Watson -- and abuse survivors -- don't think the house legislation goes far enough. The Senate version Watson is carrying would also give people more time to sue institutions that knew or should have known about abuse.

Some say the House bill, which passed unanimously, gives institutions a pass.

“Why in an extension would we suddenly carve out the institutions? Why should they be let off the hook whether it's 15 or 30 years,” said attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who is representing some abuse survivors.

State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) acknowledged there's desire to include institutions in the bill. but she wondered if saying an institution "should have known" is too much.

“I'm trying to think about how that would be proved 30 years later, I think there's a little bit of concern about that language,” Huffman said.

The survivors now hope the stiffer legislation moves forward at the Texas Capitol.

“I just want to make sure we're doing everything we can,” Baumann said.

If the bill makes it out of chamber and the senate passes the version introduced by Watson, the Texas House and Senate would then need to hash out the differences between the two.