COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – For almost a year, nearly 2,000 survivors of childhood sexual abuse under the Boy Scouts of America’s care have awaited the chance to recoup their fair share of the scouting organization’s $2.7 billion bankruptcy agreement.

But some survivors said insurance companies and the Ohio Senate with its summer vacation have delayed their shot at justice. Lawmakers have until next April to pass a law ensuring Ohio survivors are entitled to equal amounts as those in other U.S. states, according to California-based attorney Andrew Van Arsdale, and the clock is ticking.

“If that bill ultimately isn’t passed, signed into law this fall, they will likely run out of time and lose that ability to stand on equal footing with folks from other states,” Van Arsdale said. “That’s totally unjust, unfair and completely against the spirit of bankruptcy law.”

Ohio’s scout survivors ‘stand to lose out’

A 281-page ruling handed down by a federal bankruptcy judge last August solidified most plans for the BSA to divvy up $2.7 billion – the largest child sex abuse case in U.S. history – among the 82,209 survivors who filed claims against them.

Of those survivors, about 1,900 hail from Ohio, according to Van Arsdale, an attorney representing several of Ohio’s victims of Boy Scout abuse.

But because of Ohio’s civil statute of limitations – which bars child sex abuse victims from pursuing civil action against a perpetrator once the victim turns 30 – survivors are only slated to receive between 30 and 45% of their total share of the settlement, Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said.

“If you’ve got a longer statute of limitations, the way the settlement reads is you might be entitled to greater compensation than if you had a shorter statute of limitations,” Seitz said.

This means an Ohio scout who was raped may be entitled to damages between $22,500 and $637,875, according to the BSA’s compensation calculator. But in California – whose statute of limitations for child abuse is 10 years longer – scout survivors could redeem between $60,000 and $1.7 million.

However, the bankruptcy agreement’s compensation tiers can be adjusted, allowing Ohioans to receive 100% of their fair share, only if the state’s General Assembly passes a law to extend or abolish the statute of limitations within one year of the BSA’s agreed-upon settlement.

Last year, Miranda and Seitz introduced House Bill 35, nicknamed the Scout’s Honor Law, to ensure Ohio survivors get their fair share of the settlement. Its previous iteration, House Bill 709, died in the Senate but passed unanimously in the House in late March – after it was rebranded as House Bill 35, with a couple of tweaks.

“Why should we be discounted when the folks over in New York aren’t? That’s just fundamentally unfair and unacceptable,” Van Arsdale said.

Ohio lawmakers have until April 2024 to enact such a law or the survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Boy Scout troop authorities will “stand to lose out,” said Upper Arlington resident Seth Porter, who was assaulted by his Chillicothe scoutmaster as a child.

The Senate held its first hearing on the bill last month, but between the lengthy negotiations on the state’s $191 billion budget – and concerns about its potential to chip away at the state’s statute of limitations laws – it has yet to vote the legislation out of committee.

Until the Senate takes action, Porter said he and his fellow scout survivors are at a standstill, avoidant of signing a final settlement before the chance of earning 100% of their payment.

“We’re really inside of that window now, and we’re anxious,” Porter said. “Several of us are very concerned that it won’t get over the finish line in time. That would be devastating to the almost 2,000 survivors in Ohio.”

Other states, including Indiana, have introduced similar legislation in light of the Boy Scouts of America settlement agreement. But Van Arsdale said no bill has made it as far as the Scout’s Honor Law in Ohio, in part because of its vast network of survivors at the helm of advocate Chris Graham, a childhood survivor of priest sexual abuse who helped author HB 35.

“I have at least 20 folks that I represent in Ohio that have been a part of, very actively showing their face at the Statehouse, in-person petitioning these various legislatures, and I know there’s hundreds of more that have written letters, made phone calls, are advocating on behalf of survivors in Ohio,” Van Arsdale said. “I think the grassroot-movement Chris Graham has had to this has been the difference in Ohio.”

A ‘slippery slope’

At its first hearing before the Senate, Seitz said some individual insurance groups and those that represent them, like the Ohio Insurance Institute and Ohio Chamber of Commerce, raised concerns about the “slippery slope” potential of the first iteration of Scout’s Honor Law’s further repeal – or abolition – of statute of limitations reform.

Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) hinted at the concern, too, citing fears he’s heard that passing Scout’s Honor, though currently carved out to apply solely to the Boy Scouts, could “open the floodgates to litigation” against other corporations accused of sexual violence – regardless of how long ago the abuse may have occurred.

Porter, who has rallied his support for the Scout’s Honor Law at the Statehouse, in letters to lawmakers and on social media since its inception, said those who lobbied lawmakers about the bill’s provisions included Chubb Insurance, one of the Boy Scouts of America’s primary insurers that agreed in 2021 to contribute $800 million to settle the organization’s sexual abuse allegations.

Agents with the Columbus-based lobbying firm Byers Minton & Associates, who declined to comment on the record, met with lawmakers on Chubb Insurance’s behalf regarding HB 35, according to the legislature’s lobbying records. 

During last year’s General Assembly – before the first iteration of the Scout’s Honor Law died in the Senate – Porter said he emailed the firm to discuss its client’s apparent concerns with the bill’s first iteration, to no avail.

“I never got a single response, a single acknowledgment,” Porter said. “That’s a painful thing to think – that there’s a team of people downtown every day that are working against us for an out-of-state insurance company that has felt the pain of what they’ve insured.”

But Miranda said before HB 35 earned unanimous support from the House in March, lawmakers narrowed its scope even further with two amendments: the law will sunset after five years, and it only applies to congressionally chartered organizations, a federal recognition the Boy Scouts earned in 1916.

“This effectively describes the Boy Scouts of America without actually saying so,” Miranda said.

Once lawmakers agreed to limit the bill’s scope, Seitz said those initially opposed to the measure, like the Ohio Insurance Institute, agreed to let it take its path through the legislature. “With those two changes, you’ll hear nothing from us,” he recalled the groups saying.

Though the extent of the insurance company’s lobbying efforts are unclear, Van Arsdale said it is “100%” about preventing their corporation from future liability in sexual abuse-related claims.

‘A fight for another day’

It took Porter, now 41, more than two decades to disclose the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his former Boy Scout troop leader Dan Burris, who was sentenced to prison in 2017 for sexually abusing two Upper Arlington boys while employed as a math tutor.

Porter said Burris operated under the guidance of another man, who publicly admitted in 2020 to molesting children as a Boy Scout troop leader in Chillicothe in the ‘80s and ’90s. But because of Ohio’s statute of limitations, the clock ran out for any criminal or civil charges to be filed against him.

“(Friends) send me pictures of him walking into the grocery store or the post office, living his life,” Porter said. “He is living without consequences. That is probably the most difficult thing to see when everyone else is suffering.”

That’s why Van Arsdale said he supports reforming Ohio’s “draconian” statute of limitations as it pertains to victims of child sex abuse, though he generally supports the concept in court. Children who are abused as minors don’t come forward until the average age of 52, according to child advocacy think tank Child USA.

“We as a society need to understand that, and we need to better provide access and accountability for folks like that that suffer through the negligence of an organization and its failure to protect those children,” Van Arsdale said. “I’m sorry, but you let this happen under your watch – there has to be some accountability.”

But opponents of statute of limitations reform, including Seitz, argue statutes of limitations keep courtroom proceedings accurate, memories fresh and evidence accessible.

“I believe statutes of limitations exist to encourage people to bring forward their claims when their story is fresh, when their witnesses are more available when the documents and other evidence is more easily preserved than if we were to wait 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the line,” Seitz told NBC4 last August.

His co-sponsor Miranda, on the other hand, has been vocal in her support for fully repealing Ohio’s statute of limitations. A survivor of child sex abuse herself, she’s authored several pieces of legislation to amend or fully repeal existing laws on the topic.

“That is a fight for another day,” Seitz said. “We’ll fight that out when the time comes.”