Lawmakers Concerned over Statute of Limitations Bill

We Are Central PA
April 14, 2016

[with video]

The bill that would abolish the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of sexual abuse crimes is waiting for consideration in the PA Senate.

On Tuesday, the PA House overwhelmingly passed the bill 166 to 28. Five of those no votes came from representatives from our region.

One of the cases that helped pushed this change was the Grand Jury investigation in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese and the cover up of dozens of accused pedophiles. This had many in the region asking why Representatives voted against the bill when there are abuse cases here in central PA.

We reached all of the Representatives who voted no, and their biggest concerns seemed to be the constitutionality of the bill and how it will affect organizations.

Representative Cris Dush (R) said, "I'm getting some messages back home as to the constitutionality question on this amendment."

That question -- can the government amend a law to work retroactively? That's why some lawmakers say they voted against House Bill 1947.

Representative John McGinnis (R), said, "I'm very mindful of the harm that has been done. We have an 800 year history with our rule of law, stemming from Magna Carta, that says once you stipulate a statute of limitations, you have to abide by that because evidence grows cold or decays over time, witnesses disappear or die, a person doesn't get a fair change to defend themselves."

But others say it's the government's job to get involved.

Representative Bryan Barbin (D), said, "Courts of law are supposed to direct how those suits are supposed to come out, are supposed to be done in a way that's fair, number one, to the victim, but number two to the system, making things more certain, making sure they are good lawsuits."

Another part of this bill addresses the ability to sue public institutions, not just private ones.

"And the waiver of sovereign immunity makes the taxpayers virtually liable for these damages," said Rep. McGinnis.

"If you can sue everybody else, but you can't sue the government that you've elected to represent yourself, who says everybody is equal under the law, that doesn't make any sense so you have to decide what areas of the law you'll allow suits against the commonwealth," said Rep. Barbin.

The cap for suits against the commonwealth is $250,000. The bill now moves to the Senate.

All of the lawmakers we spoke with today -- on both sides of the issue -- say they do not want to minimize this issue and they do not want to ignore what has happened. They do want the victims to have justice -- they just differ on how to handle reforming the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases.

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