Illinois is set to eliminate the statute of limitations in child sex-abuse cases, a change prosecutors and a victim of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert called for after Hastert was imprisoned for violating banking laws while trying to silence a student he abused decades ago.
The Illinois House unanimously approved the legislation Thursday, sending it to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who supports it.
State Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued Hastert's case provided a prime example of why Illinois should join 36 other states and the federal government in removing its time limits for charging people accused of child-sex crimes.
A federal judge dubbed Hastert "a serial child molester" at his sentencing last year, saying the former speaker sexually abused at least four former students at Yorkville High School in suburban Chicago from 1965 to 1981.
But Illinois law, which states victims of sex abuse have 20 years from their 18th birthday to report the crime so it can be prosecuted, prevented prosecutors from charging Hastert with sex abuse.
Instead he was charged with banking violations as he withdrew thousands of dollars, starting in 2010, to pay what was supposed to be millions in hush money to a victim. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Victim Scott Cross told lawmakers at a hearing last fall that the sentence amounts to "a slap on the wrist" and that his victims were "silenced by Illinois' legal system." His voice shaking at times, the 54-year-old said it can take years for victims to come to terms with their abuse and overcome feelings of shame before they tell anyone.
Madigan said that child victims can spend their whole lives "trying to recover and heal."
"There should be no limitation on the pursuit of justice for felony sex crimes committed against children," she said Thursday in an emailed statement. "We must ensure survivors are able to come forward in their own time and receive the support they need and deserve."
Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zachary Fardon, who resigned in March, has said he would have pressed for sex-abuse charges against the Illinois Republican but the statute of limitations had long since run out.