House panel approves bill to reform statute of limitations on sex crimes
By Ivey Dejesus
April 5, 2016
|If the Pennsylvania General Assembly wouldn't meet on Christmas, then Sen. Daylin Leach wants to know why it would meet on an equally spiritual and important Jewish holiday.|
Photo by Christian Alexandersen
By an overwhelming margin, the Pennsylvania's House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning gave its support to a bill that would reform the state's sex crime law.
House Bill 1947, sponsored by Majority Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), would abolish the criminal statute of limitations for future criminal prosecutions.
Under the proposed legislation no one accused of a sexual crime will ever be free from criminal prosecution because of a lapsed statute of limitations. The bill would also raise the civil statute-of-limitations age to age 50.
The bill does not include retroactive components. Victims advocates have long pushed for reforms to the retroactive parameters in the law to allow victims who have "timed out" of the legal system to seek legal recourse.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, moving it onto the House floor for a full vote, by a 26-1 vote.
The vote features two amendments, both sponsored by Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria), which among other things would waive sovereign immunity to the Commonwealth in cases of gross negligence. Such a measure would make, for instance, school districts, liable in cases of child sexual abuse involving teachers if school officials failed to protect children.
Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30. That leaves out many of the victims from Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown.
Victims can bring criminal charges against offenders until they reach 50 years of age — but only if the victim turned 18 years old after Aug. 27, 2002. The law allows victims older than that to report until their 30th birthday.
Demands for reform in the law reached high pitch in recent weeks in the wake of a grand jury report that found that hundreds if not thousands of children in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese had been abused for decades by more than 50 priests. Investigators found that church leaders and officials knew about the abuse but concealed it, and continued to assign abusive priests to posts that would give them access to children.
None of the surviving priests named in the report have been charged, in most cases because the statute of limitations has expired.