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Pennsylvania

Child sex abuse reforms among issues for returning Pa. legislators

| Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, 5:21 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.

State legislators returned to Harrisburg Monday with a long list of priorities for the few days remaining in the fall legislative session.

The House had nine voting days scheduled, including Monday, before the scheduled end of the session Nov. 13, but House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, said he expected to add more days. The Senate had 10 voting days scheduled.

Below are some of the highest-profile issues awaiting action.

Child sex abuse reforms

Legislation sits in the state House that would make a number of reforms suggested in an August grand jury report that detailed decades worth of allegations that Catholic Church clergy sexually abused children and covered up the abuse.

Senate Bill 261, which awaits a House vote, would enable adult victims to file childhood abuse claims until they are 50 instead of 30. It would strengthen reporting requirements make it easier for victims to sue institutions such as schools and governments over abuse claims, along with other reforms.

The one suggestion the legislation doesn’t include is a proposal to create a “window of opportunity” during which adults who were abused as children could file new civil lawsuits against their abusers – whether they are Catholic or not. Rep. Mark Rozzi introduced an amendment Monday to create a two-year window for new claims, which passed the House on a 171-to-23 vote. The proposal is expected to pass the House but its fate is uncertain in the Senate, where legislators have raised concerns about its constitutionality.

Redistricting reform

Legislators plan to introduce a new proposal to change how congressional district maps are drawn in the state, Turzai said. Advocacy groups pushed for a new process, to be led by an independent citizen commission, earlier this year after the state Supreme Court ruled the state’s map had been unfairly drawn to favor Republicans.

The effort to create an independent commission, which would have required a constitutional amendment, fizzled over the summer. The new proposal, which Turzai called a “common-sense constitutional approach,” is to create a nine-member commission appointed by elected party leaders that would be in charge of redrawing the state’s 18 congressional districts every 10 years.

Reducing Legislature size

Turzai said he expects a vote on a proposal to reduce the size of the state House to 151 representatives from 203. Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is the second-largest in the nation and its members have the second-highest salaries. The change, which would amend the state’s constitution, requires votes in two successive years to become law. Both chambers approved the proposal last year but it hasn’t been called for a vote yet this year.

Domestic violence protections

Legislators could vote on legislation meant to protect domestic violence victims. Two separate bills would strengthen requirements for domestic abusers to give up firearms. People convicted of domestic violence crimes or who have had a protection-from-abuse order granted against them would have to relinquish firearms within 24 or 48 hours under the proposals, rather than 60 days under current law. The bills would also mandate the firearms be surrendered to law enforcement agencies or licensed firearms dealers, rather than handed over to friends or family as allowed by law now.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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