Gov. Cecil Andrus opened Idaho's Centennial Legislature by declaring 1989 "The Year of the Child," and state lawmakers were ready to get down to serious business on that issue Monday at the beginning of the Legislature's fifth week.
Toughening Idaho's child abuse laws has been a priority, and several key proposals were ready for action.The Senate had four bills up for a final vote and a House committee was scheduled to take up several related measures. All stem from interim task forces on child abuse laws, established after the 1988 session discussed the problem but took little action.
One Senate bill makes child abusers subject to civil, as well as criminal, sanctions. It allows an abused child five years after turning age 18 to bring a civil action for damages.
A second bill requires courts to allow a support person, such as a parent or close friend, to stay at the witness stand with a child during the child's testimony, unless a judge rules the defendant's right to a fair trial could be prejudiced.
A third sets a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for convicted molesters while the fourth, and possibly the most controversial, would allow abuse victims to testify by closed-circuit television.
Some lawmakers, emphasizing that they endorse the effort to ease courtroom trauma on victims, fear that bill could violate the constitutional guarantee that defendants can confront their accusers.