Abuse bill now law

As of Monday, Idaho no longer has a statute of limitations on child sex abuse

By COREY TAULE . ctaule@postregister.com

Troy Maben / Associated Press - Gov. Dirk Kempthorne holds up House Bill 534 after signing it during a special ceremony in his office Monday afternoon. Behind the governor is the Steed family: daughter-in-law Morwenna Steed and her husband, Adam; Deborah and Paul Steed; and their daughters, Crystallynn and Sarah.

BOISE - At 2:30 p.m. Monday, according to a clock on Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's office wall, Idaho stopped granting amnesty to pedophiles once their victims turn 23.

That's when Kempthorne signed House Bill 534 into law.

The bill eliminates the statute of limitation on child sexual abuse, which had been set at five years beyond a victim's 18th birthday.

Because the bill contains an emergency clause, it became law the second Kempthorne scrawled his name.

"This is a great day for Idaho," said Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes, a sponsor of HB 534. "And I hope it's a horrible day for anyone who even thinks they can abuse a child in Idaho and get away with it."

Like all ceremonial bill signings, Monday's was essentially a postcard moment. The people who worked on this issue were rewarded with a few minutes to culminate their efforts.

But for the eastern Idahoans who have lived this issue for years, even decades, this ceremony appeared to take on greater meaning.

Picture them standing behind Kempthorne in an office with space enough to hold dozens of people, two large desks, various knickknacks and even a fake fire.

Troy Maben / Associated Press - Gov. Dirk Kempthorne hands a pen to Sam Bird, 7, inside the governor's office Monday. With Sam are his parents, Hannah and Jeff Bird, and his siblings, Juliana, front, and Coray.

They seem nervous, emotional, relaxed, relieved and happy.

From left to right: Jeff Bird and his wife, Hannah, stand behind three of their six children, Sam, Juliana and Coray.

Jeff Bird holds his arms rigid behind him.

Hannah Bird pulls her children close to her body.

After reading about a Boy Scout who protected his brother and friends from a pedophile, Jeff Bird came forward with his own allegations of abuse.

In a sworn affidavit, Jeff Bird accused a convicted child molester, Dennis Empey, of raping him at gunpoint in 1983 at Scout camp. Bird said he told Scout leader Kim Hansen about the abuse and was ignored.

His testimony at a public hearing left members of the audience and House Judiciary Committee in tears.

Hannah Bird organized a letter-writing campaign, asking legislators to toughen Idaho's sex crime laws. Lawmakers were stunned at the amount of mail they received from her friends, neighbors and supporters.

Next in line is Blackfoot Police Chief David Moore and his family. Moore rubs his daughter's shoulders as Kempthorne lauds his courage. His wife snaps pictures.

In a public hearing on HB 534, Moore talked in general terms about an incident that occurred when he was 16. His testimony resonated with members of the committee, and as Kempthorne intimated Monday, helped people understand this could happen to anybody.

Down the line is the Steed family.

Paul Steed is the Pocatello man who quit his job as a seminary teacher for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pursue this quest full time, the driving force behind the new law. He looked more relaxed Monday than he has in months.

Next to him is his wife, Deborah, who's beaming, and their two daughters, Crystallynn and Sarah.

Also here today is the young man with whom this story began, Adam Steed, along with his wife, Morwenna.

It was Adam, and his brother, Ben, who dogged pedophile Bradley Stowell into a jail cell.

It's difficult for Jeff Bird, Adam Steed and David Moore to explain what it took for them to share their stories. But Monday was, as Kempthorne pointed out many times, their day.

"I believe you have demonstrated a tremendous amount of courage to have come over here, to have testified, to have told your stories," the governor said. "Because of this courage, we're going to help a lot of people."

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