Story by Pennsylvania Real-Time News
Pa. House passes measure to allow voters to create a window for child sex abuse victims to go to court
Pennsylvania on Wednesday stepped closer to paving the way for adults who were sexually abused as children to seek recourse in court against their predators.
By a vote of 187-15, the state House of Representatives passed a measure that could lead to a temporary lifting of expired statute of limitations for some abuse victims, allowing them to file civil suits.
House Bill 14, authored by Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, calls for a voter referendum on a two-year retroactive window that would lift expired statute of limitations to allow such legal civil action.
The bill now heads for the Senate, which has signaled strong support for the measure.
“This is a wonderful day. Attitude of gratitude for the people of Pennsylvania who have waited a long time,” Gregory said just moments after the vote. “This is just another step in the process of recognizing those who have been sexually abused in past decades. They have been waiting a long time for this and I‘m just grateful to colleagues who voted for this so strongly that they believe in justice for victims but also believe in the protection of our families.”
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who has made statute of limitations reform one of his signature initiatives, called it an easy vote.
“Victims deserve their day in court. Victims have waited long enough,” he said.
The bill calls for amending the state constitution to create the window for victims to pursue claims and it requires voter approval. It is a companion piece to an effort launched in 2018 by Rozzi to reform the state’s child sex crime laws in the wake of a set of stunning investigations into clergy sex abuse in Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
After much debate and failures, Rozzi’s companion piece was enacted into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019, as part of a cadre of bills that substantially reformed the state’s child sex crime laws.defeated in the past by the General Assembly’s failure to advance reforms.
The new law abolished criminal statute of limitations on childhood sex abuse; and extended the amount of time victims have to file civil actions against their abusers to age 55.
Rozzi, himself a survivor of clergy sex abuse, delivered yet another impassioned appeal to lawmakers to approve Gregory’s measure. Rozzi over the years had given similar appeals in the wake of the grand jury investigations that uncovered the systemic and widespread sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests.
Rozzi outlined the string of investigations into clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, starting in 2003 with the first investigation into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Two subsequent investigations there were followed by equally stunning investigations into the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. In 2018, the 40th Statewide Grand Jury investigation uncovered nearly identical child sexual abuse conspiracies and cover-up across all remaining dioceses in the state.