State Sen. Linda Stewart was beaming Tuesday afternoon moments after a Florida Senate appropriations subcommittee voted unanimously to approve her bill aimed at removing the statute of limitations on sexual battery prosecution.
The Florida Senate appropriations subcommittee on criminal justice vote on Senate Bill 170 moves the bill one step closer to the Senate floor.
The proposed legislation would allow the prosecution "at any time” for a sexual battery victim under the age of 18 erasing the current 8-year statute of limitations.
“We won today. We won," a jubilant Stewart proclaimed during a Skype interview. “We’ve had unanimous approval in both of the committees so far, about half of the senators have already voted on this bill.”
Stewart’s bill has been backed by men and women victimized by sexual assault in their teens and only now finding the courage to seek justice.
“Their stories are the stories of thousands and thousands of men and women across Florida and the U.S.," Stewart said. “They were so brave and so willing to tell their story and that made such a difference today.”
Half a dozen women including Donna Hendrick, an Orange County woman who was allegedly assaulted by her high school choral director when she was 15, called on lawmakers to eliminate the statute of limitations.
A similar bill in the Florida House made it through all three committees without a hitch and now awaits a full vote.
“I’m confident as much as I can be,” Stewart said. “It’s a landmark bill for victims.”
The women that presented their testimony in front of the subcommittee Tuesday told senators the assaults from their teenage years still haunt them to this day decades later.
Stewart said people don’t understand the pain the have endured all these years.
“They’re just getting around to talk about it,” she said. “This bill doesn’t affect them, but moving forward it will help future generations and they are so pleased that they are able to change the law and make things better for the future.”
The bill is expected to go to the Senate appropriations committee next.
If approved, it will go to the rules committee and then to the Senate floor for a full vote.
If signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis the bill would become law on July 1.