It’s Friday and spring is trying its best to be springlike in most parts of the country, and for that we can all be grateful. Let’s see what’s in the news.
The Big Takeaway
What happens in a court of law isn’t just a matter of decisions by judges and arguments by lawyers. Almost everything that happens in the courtroom is in fact controlled by the legislature. Lawmakers don’t just decide which activities constitute a crime, or are subject to lawsuits, they decide most of the technical rules on when and how cases can be brought and how much freedom judges have to make decisions.
And those technical choices can have profound consequences.
Take Kansas, where lawmakers are considering making changes to the way child sexual abuse cases are handled, the Kansas Reflector reports. Currently, the time limit to bring a criminal case is, with a few exceptions, 10 years after the victim turns 18. For victims to file civil lawsuits, it is three years after they turn 21.
That’s simply not enough, victims and advocates told lawmakers considering a bill to lift the statute of limitations, among other changes.
“Imagine the most terrible, embarrassing thing that has ever happened in your life. Would you want to share it?” said Terin Humphrey, an Olympic silver medal-winning gymnast who told lawmakers she was abused at age 15. “I tried years and years to forget what happened, to move forward, to survive, or whatever you want to call it. It’s not that easy. I didn’t even want to believe myself. One day the nightmares consume you, until you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t live.”
Earl McIntosh told lawmakers that he was abused at age 10 by an older neighbor, but it took him more than a quarter century to confide in family and four decades to seek professional therapy.
“I didn’t have a clue what he was doing to me. My innocence was robbed. He threatened to harm me if I told anyone, including my parents and my friends. So I buried this terrifying experience deep inside me,” he said.
And since the statute of limitations had long expired by the time he was able to talk about his experience, his abuser faces no criminal or civil consequences. Today his attacker works with an organization that counsels young people, he said.
“It’s ironic and sickening that he is involved in a program trying to protect young children from people like himself,” McIntosh said.
The exact details of the bill are still under discussion, but lawmakers seemed to agree that something needs to change.
“We hear you. We heard your stories. There are so many more that we’ve also heard,” Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican, told the survivors who testified in a public hearing. “And I know it took a lot of courage to be here today.”
In New Mexico, meanwhile, the governor has signed a bill to eliminate life without parole for anyone under age 18 who is charged as an adult for serious crimes, reports Source New Mexico.
The bill would also allow people already sentenced to life without parole as juveniles to apply for parole after serving at least 15 years of their sentence. There are about 75 such cases in the state prisons.
The change is an acknowledgement that children lack the maturity and brain development to fully comprehend or control their actions, advocates say. Youths who commit serious crimes can still be held accountable, but they will not be held to the same elevated standards that would apply to a fully-developed adult.
“Everybody who has ever had a child or themselves has been a child knows that children are works in progress,” said Denali Wilson, an ACLU New Mexico attorney who worked for three years to convince lawmakers to pass the bill. “All children are capable of and worthy of redemption.”
Carissa McGee of Albuquerque shared her own story with lawmakers, how she spent nine years in an adult prison for attempted murder, a crime she committed at age 16.
“I’m here because I want you to know that this is the chance to give people a chance to meaningfully contribute to their society,” she told lawmakers.
The prospect of parole gives incarcerated youth hope.
“When you give somebody hope, that’s the most priceless incentive that you can grant individuals who are behind walls,” she said.
In Florida, lawmakers are talking about tightening the rules for courts rather than loosening them.
A bill passed by the legislature and awaiting action by Gov. Ron DeSantis, would make it harder for Floridians to sue insurance companies when they believe they are being unfairly denied benefits, the Florida Phoenix reports.
“Its supporters direct much of their ire at ‘billboard lawyers’ — trial attorneys who advertise on roadside signs, television, and radio — for, in their view, exploiting the litigation system to extract inflated claims and attorney fees from insurance companies,” the Phoenix writes. “They claimed that they want to restore balance to the system.”
But critics, including four members of the Republican majority, say this is just a giveaway to the already wealthy and powerful insurance companies, at the expense of ordinary people who have been injured in some way.
“While we’re told this is about billboard lawyers, insurance companies have created the problem that this bill is supposed to address,” said Democrat Geraldine Thompson of Orange County.
“The people who’ve been paying the premiums are told that now we won’t pay your attorney fees, but the insurance companies have a whole staff of lawyers that they’re going to pay. I’ve said before that this sets up a David versus Goliath situation where the consumer is left to fend for himself and herself,” Thompson said.
DeSantis is expected to sign the bill.
More from the judicial reform files: (Nevada) Lombardo’s proposal targeting restorative justice policies scrutinized by lawmakers … Survivors’ heartbreak points toward gun violence solutions, advocates tell Pennsylvania House panel … (Louisiana) Donelon backs ‘tort reform’ for homeowner’s insurance … (Arizona) Survivors of sex crimes want ‘lifetime probation’ to look more like a lifetime … Limits, application of South Dakota ‘stand your ground’ law debated before Supreme Court … Alabama Senate approves bill limiting good time incentives for prisoners
State of Our Democracy
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat who has represented Rhode Island in Congress for a dozen years, has had quite enough of Washington D.C., thank you.
The 61-year-old lawmaker says he is stepping down mid-term to become the head of the state’s largest community foundation, the Rhode Island Current reports.
That’s a big change for a guy who once chaired the House subcommittee on antitrust issues and was one of the House managers in the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
The reason he’s leaving? It’s become almost impossible to get anything done on his key priorities, including gun legislation, LGBTQ rights, and antitrust actions against big tech companies.
“I had to compare it to what I think is likely to happen over the next couple of years in the House. And I think with the Republicans in charge, it’s going to be very difficult to make progress on a lot of issues,” Cicilline said. “It became clear to me that in terms of impact on Rhode Island, I could get more done and have more of an opportunity to improve people’s lives.”
His seat will be filled in a special election, probably sometime this summer. It is expected to remain in Democratic hands in the solidly blue state.
More from the Had Enough Yet? files: (Kentucky) Beshear vetoes anti-trans, ‘parents rights’ bill … (Indiana) Trump, Pence, Holcomb among top GOP speakers at next month’s NRA event in Indianapolis … Push to spend $900M to help Missourians with developmental disabilities voted down … Iowa senators propose resolution condemning jail treatment of Jan. 6 rioters
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
Remember back in 2017 when we were visited by a vast alien spacecraft hurtling through our solar system? The object, known as Oumuamua, the Hawaiian word for “scout,” was said to be, perhaps, tubular. It didn’t behave like a comet or asteroid, moving as if it had a propulsion system aboard, and it came and went without paying us earthlings the slightest attention. It was all very exciting and reminiscent of the mysterious alien artifact that whizzes through the solar system in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic 1973 novel, “Rendezvous with Rama.”
Well, forget about it.
Scientists now say that it was probably just a comet after all. According to the journal Nature, it was probably a big ball of water ice, like many comets, but with the unusual feature of having an internal pocket of hydrogen gas, caused by cosmic radiation breaking down water (remember, it’s just hydrogen and oxygen mashed together). If that gas were to break through the surface ice, it would act like a natural rocket engine, causing the anomalous behavior observed as the object swung around the sun.
"The simplest explanation, and exactly what we would expect for an interstellar comet, fits all of the data with no fine-tuning," study co-author Darryl Seligman, a postdoctoral fellow in planetary science at Cornell University, told Reuters.
It was fun while it lasted, Oumuamua.
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