Senate Bill 131, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would have opened a yearlong window for sex abuse victims who were excluded from a 2003 law that extended the statute of limitations.
Opponents painted the bill as an attack on the Catholic Church, and the church's political arm called it a money grab by trial lawyers.
Brown, a former Catholic seminarian, issued an unusually lengthy, three-page veto message.
"Statutes of limitation reach back to Roman law and were specifically enshrined in the English common law by the Limitations Act of 1623," he wrote. "Ever since, and in every state, including California, various limits have been imposed on the time when lawsuits may still be initiated. Even though valid and profoundly important claims are at stake, all jurisdictions have seen fit to bar actions after a lapse of years."
The Democratic governor said the value of statutes of limitations is "one of fairness."
"There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits," he wrote. "With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die."
The bill was backed by the National Center for Victims of Crime, the California Police Chiefs Association and the Consumer Attorneys of California. Supporters said the legislation was consistent with a growing understanding of the reasons victims of sexual abuse often wait years before reporting the crime.
Opponents of the legislation said the bill unfairly excluded public agencies, such as school districts, targeting private entities such as the Catholic Church.
The Rev. Gerald Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference, issued a statement praising the veto.
He said the bill "was unfair to the vast majority of victims and unfair to all private and non-profit organizations."
PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli