Legislation to extend the statute of limitations for Georgians who were sexually abused as children to sue their abusers years later as adults has cleared the state House of Representatives.

House lawmakers passed the bill unanimously late on Monday’s annual Crossover Day deadline and sent it on to the Georgia Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, the bill would extend the deadline for victims to bring lawsuits against their childhood abusers from age 23 to 38, an increase from current law but pared back from an earlier version of the bill that set 52 as the cut-off age.

A previous stab by Clark at the bill stalled in the Senate last year as the General Assembly paused the legislative session due to COVID-19.

Speaking from the House floor on Monday, Clark said his bill aims to bring justice for Georgians sexually abused as children and to hold accountable both their abusers and the organizations that turned a blind eye.

“These organizations were breaking the law of Georgia by not reporting the events that were happening under their care,” Clark said. “So we are going after the criminals.”

The bill would let victims sue their alleged abusers up to a year after realizing that past abuse has led to present-day trauma, effective July 1. Research shows adults often tend to recognize the impacts of childhood sex abuse decades after it happened.

Controversially, the bill would also give victims a four-year window to sue public and private organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America for harboring predators on staff who abused them as children.

Under the bill, victims would have to prove with “clear and convincing” evidence – a high legal hurdle – that those organizations both knew about the abuse and let it happen under their watch.

Lawsuits could only be brought if the abuse happened since July 1, 1983, marking another pull-back from earlier versions of the bill that made abuse that occurred since 1973 subject to litigation.

Trial attorneys have warned opening the lawsuit window for victims decades after their abuse could open a floodgate of litigation in Georgia, noting hundreds of suits were filed in New York shortly after that state passed a similar statute-of-limitations extension in 2019.

Representatives from the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church, which have both been rocked by child sex-abuse scandals in recent years, also previously opposed the bill on grounds that litigation could expose their organizations to huge legal fees.