DENVER (AP) — A Colorado House committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill prompted by claims against Bill Cosby that would double a 10-year statute of limitations for seeking charges in sexual assault cases.
Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred and two Colorado women who claim Cosby assaulted them decades ago testified that the bill would empower traumatized victims by giving them more time to come forward.
"The shame and the silence of being a victim of sexual assault has to end," said Beth Ferrier of Denver, who alleges that Cosby assaulted her in 1986.
Heidi Thomas of Castle Rock said it took 30 years for her to come forward after she was assaulted by Cosby in 1984 in Reno, Nevada.
"I would have been sent off the planet" and lost her job if she come forward at the time, Thomas said.
The Associated Press doesn't typically name people who say they are sex assault victims. However, Ferrier and Thomas spoke publicly about their allegations.
Cosby has consistently denied sexual abuse allegations made by dozens of women around the country. Some of the claims date to the 1960s.
"What's important about their story is that I believe them," Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora said about Ferrier and Thomas, who approached Fields about sponsoring the legislation. Republican Sen. John Cooke of Greeley is a co-sponsor.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 11-0 to send the bill extending the statute to 20 years to the full House. It isn't retroactive, so it wouldn't affect the allegations made by Ferrier and Thomas if it becomes law.
Fields withdrew a parallel bill that would have eliminated the 10-year statute of limitations entirely.
In 2015, Nevada extended its statute from four to 20 years after testimony by a woman who accused Cosby of sexually assaulting her decades ago.
Oregon's Legislature is considering a similar bill after it doubled the statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes from six to 12 years in 2015. California is also considering legislation on the issue.
Laurie Rose Kepros, director of sexual litigation for the Colorado state public defender's office, testified against the bill, arguing in part that evidence can disappear and witness recollections can deteriorate over time.
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, argued for the bill on behalf of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.
"What this bill is attempting to do is to say (that) we know more about how sexual assault affects victims today" than in the past, he said.
Cosby faces defamation lawsuits by women in California and Massachusetts after he denied their claims that he drugged and raped them.
In a criminal case in Pennsylvania, the comedian is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
Colorado and many other states have eliminated limits to seek criminal charges in child sex-abuse cases — a response to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.