Bills to combat child sexual abuse move ahead in Pennsylvania Legislature
HARRISBURG — Two related bills designed to help victims of child sexual abuse received favorable committee votes in the Pennsylvania House on Monday and are poised to pass the full chamber in the coming days.
The House Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes and for a constitutional amendment that would permit child sexual abuse lawsuits that would otherwise be outdated during a two-year period.
Both measures are widely supported in the House, but the state Senate’s Republican majority blocked similar legislation last year.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a leading advocate for child sexual abuse-related legislation in the House, said dividing proposals between a bill and a constitutional amendment could make it easier to get something enacted.
“I’m hoping that this is one we can not only get through the House, but get through the Senate,” Rozzi said before the bill passed with only one no vote.
It would do away with the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes entirely and give victims of future abuse until age 55 to file lawsuits. Current law gives victims until age 30 to pursue criminal charges and until age 50 to sue.
Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, said he was opposed because he saw the measure as a potential overreach that could violate the rights of those accused of crimes.
“We have statutes of limitations for reasons,” Schemel said.
But Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, said it often takes many years for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward.
“We know that kids need a little more time; the kids need help,” Miller said.
The proposed constitutional amendment, which would create the two-year lawsuit window, must pass both chambers in two consecutive two-year sessions and then be approved by voters.
Rozzi said one goal is “to put the Senate on record voting to support victims.”
“At some point we need to step up and do what’s right,” Rozzi told reporters after the committee votes. “I can’t make the Senate do what’s right.”
A Senate Republican spokeswoman said the caucus plans to evaluate the legislation once something comes over from the House.
Schemel voted against the proposed amendment, as did Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia. Rabb said he could not vote for a constitutional amendment if a committee hearing has not been held on the topic.
A state grand jury report last year concluded about 300 Roman Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades.