House OKs Abuse-Law Expansion
The Bill Would Allow Victims to File Charges up to Age 50. It Now Heads to the Senate
By David O'Reilly and Angela Couloumbis
November 16, 2006
The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a multipart bill yesterday that would expand Pennsylvania's child sex-abuse laws.
Senate Bill 1054, passed by the Senate in June and amended in the House, now returns to the Senate for a final vote without amendments. Lawmakers say they expect a vote early next week.
If passed and signed, the laws would:
Expand the definition of who must report knowledge of sex abuse to civil authorities. Current law obliges employers and supervisors to report abuse only if the child informs them.
Make employers and supervisors criminally liable if they facilitate abuse or fail to provide adequate protection for children in their care.
Allow adult victims of child sex abuse to bring criminal charges against their abusers by age 50. Current law cuts off at age 30.
Require extensive criminal background checks for persons with a "significant likelihood of substantial contact" with minors.
Substantially expand the information on convicted sex abusers posted in the state's "Megan's Law" database.
Many of the items approved yesterday were part of a legislative proposal included in a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report on child sex abuse and cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The legislation passed by a vote of 191-1. Advocates of the bill had feared the bill was doomed for this session when the House leadership failed to put it up for an anticipated vote Oct. 25, the last legislative day before the election break.
"I feel elated for the victims of sexual abuse, and I feel like our hard work on the journey our boss started a year ago has paid off," said Kathleen McDonnell, legislative representative for Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.
"This has been a very, very difficult and emotionally charged issue," said Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.), who championed the bill. "But there has been a considerable discussion, and I think we've come up with the best way to address the issues."
During yesterday's debate, Rep. Greg Vitali (D., Delaware) expressed concerns about the portion of the bill that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring criminal charges against their abusers as late as age 50.
"Can anyone here now tell me where they were on a given date in 1966?" Vitali asked. "You just can't do it. If we pass this bill... we are eroding one more safeguard against a situation where an innocent person is put to trial."
But Rep. William I. Gabig (R., Cumberland) argued that the real injustice was that under current law, a person who was sexually assaulted as a child - and comes forward about the crime only later in life - has no judicial recourse. Gabig also said that the accused would not automatically be convicted - that there is a judicial process in place with safeguards.
"A mere accusation is not sufficient to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt," Gabig said.
John Salveson, president of the Foundation to Prevent Child Sex Abuse, yesterday thanked O'Brien but called passage of the bill "only a start."
"If fighting sex abuse is like trying to put out a fire in a house engulfed in flames," he said, "then maybe we can say we put it out on the front porch today."
He said his organization would continue to work for passage of a one-year window on the state's civil statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse, allowing them to sue their abusers for crimes committed even decades ago.
Although California passed such a bill in 2002, efforts in other states, including Pennsylvania, have not been successful.
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or email@example.com.
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