“Liberty and justice for all.” These five words that conclude the Pledge of Allegiance are recited countless times every day across the United States, including every morning at your State Capitol in Atlanta.
It is not a pledge that I take passively. As a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, I have taken an oath — one that I reaffirm every morning — to protect and uphold the liberty of our citizens and their constitutional right to seek justice, especially for our children.
The question that must be asked, though, is do all citizens really have “liberty and justice for all” in our great state? Our political and judicial process is supposed to guarantee that the ideals of liberty and justice are for all, and not for a select few. However, the state finds itself at a crossroads today, and we must decide whom we are elected to represent: our state’s most vulnerable citizens, our children, or a powerful, well-connected lobby who has inexplicably taken the side of sexual predators.
The debate which I am referring to is centered on House Bill 17, the Hidden Predator Act. This proposal would extend justice to victims of childhood sexual abuse who currently have no path to seek recourse because of our state’s archaic statute of limitations for these victims, which lags behind nearly every other state in the country. For them, justice has been denied, and that is simply unacceptable.
Georgia must now decide if we are going to aspire to the greatest ideal of providing justice for all, instead of selectively providing it to an elite few. We must demand that blind justice be applied, not selective application of our constitutional rights.
There are powerful interests that have chosen to stand in the way of HB 17, favoring instead to protect the almighty dollar over taking a brave, principled stand for our children. Who are these pro-child sexual predator special interest groups that are trying to stop this bill and undermine the promise of justice for all? The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the insurance lobby and the Archdiocese of Atlanta are all working fervently behind the scenes to see to it that this proposal never becomes law in Georgia. Why? Because these interests have stated that the Hidden Predator Act is “bad for business” and that we have a “business to protect.” For them, opposing this bill is only about the bottom line on their ledgers, when really it should be about what is best for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Put simply, protecting predators, and those who knowingly employ them, appears to be the sole driving interest of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and others opposing this bill. I have faithfully tried to work with them and address their concerns, and HB 17 has gone through over 10 hours of hearings, where it ultimately passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 169-2. The version of the bill that is now in the Senate provides a path to justice for childhood sexual abuse victims, but the continued pressure from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to change the bill through the back channels of the political process should now be viewed as a clear attempt to sabotage the bill.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is trying to pressure our senators to insert malicious provisions into the bill that would shield employers from accountability for negligently hiring and negligently keeping in their employment individuals whom they know to be child molesters. Further, the Chamber has recommended amendments that will provide a level of super-immunity protection to businesses acting in bad faith by conspiring to cover up abuse and protect the sexual predators that they employ. This is disturbing, to say the very least, and these provisions they are proposing undermine the civil jury system that is protected by the Constitution’s Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.
Not only is the very fundamental right to seek justice in our civil courts against the most powerful and well-connected in our society under attack through the Chamber’s efforts to sabotage this bill, but so, too, are our most vulnerable children.
When our legislature caves to the profit-driven demands of the pro-predator lobby in Georgia, we are no longer working to ensure “liberty and justice for all.” Quite the opposite, in fact. If they have their way, we will only ensure liberty and justice for a select few, none of whom are the innocent children who have been victimized by sexual predators.
It is time to bring liberty and justice back to Georgia’s children.
Spencer, R-Woodbine, represents District 180, which includes Camden, Charlton, and Ware counties.