Bill to Expand Rights of Child Sex Abuse Victims Clears State House Panel
By Liam Migdail-Smith
April 6, 2016
The push to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to take legal action against their abusers and the organizations that shield them has cleared a major hurdle.
With a 26-1 vote Tuesday, the state House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to overhaul the statutes of limitation for victims of child sex abuse. The bill had languished in the committee for years. The House is expected to consider the plan for final approval next week.
[uld end time limits for criminal charges and give victims until age 50 to pursue civil cases. Now, the age limits are 50 for criminal cases and 30 for civil cases. - See more at: http:]
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, who has led the reform push, called the committee's bill a good but incomplete first step.
He said the plan would help future victims but not those who have already passed the current civil limit. He plans to propose an amendment that would make the changes retroactive, allowing victims who are now between 30 and 50 years old to file civil cases.
“We're going to expose those pedophiles that hurt our children and may be still hurting children,” said Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat.
The panel removed a provision in the bill that would have exempted local governments and schools that conceal abuse from lawsuits.
For more than a decade, the effort has stalled in the committee amid opposition from the insurance industry and Catholic Church. But the plan has gained momentum in the wake of a state report that found rampant abuse by Altoona-area priests was concealed for decades.
A New York Times story Monday highlighted the proposal. Rozzi, a victim of child sex abuse at the hands of a priest, was honored Saturday with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's Visionary Voice Award.
In a letter distributed through church bulletins last week, Allentown Bishop John O. Barres asked parishioners to urge lawmakers to vote against the plan.
“Such civil lawsuits would not prosecute a single child abuser from the past,” Barres wrote. “Its only meaningful effect would be to encourage lawsuits against private institutions.”
Diocese spokesman Matthew Kerr said the bishop wrote the letter to update church faithful about what's been done for survivors and to prevent abuse and what the church could be facing.
Rozzi said constituents he heard from were furious with the diocese over the letter.
“To me, it just shows who they really are,” he said, “that they have never been concerned with the victims.”
Civil cases are less about money than exposing abusers and their protectors, Rozzi said. Lawsuits allow institutional records to be subpoenaed, he said, revealing abuse suspects who may still have access to children.
[ure clears the House, it would go to the state Senate. Gov. Tom Wolf will review the bill and decide whether to sign it then, his spokesman said. - See more at: http:]
Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org