Today's Editorial: A failure on statute of limitations
April 18, 2016
It seems odd to criticize the state lawmakers after a week when they passed landmark marijuana legislation, particularly days after we lauded those very same elected officials in this very same space.
However, lawmakers bolted from Harrisburg without passing a bill that would have allowed victims of sex abuse crimes to seek justice decades later in the form of civil suits. The bill would have given prosecutors more time to bring charges. The state House overwhelming passed the bill on Tuesday, 180-15, with the retroactivity provisions adding to the discussion.
The Senate did not get the bill and now the general assembly is on break until May — after the primary election where most don’t face competition anyway. What happens when lawmakers return next month is uncertain.
Blame it on the limited schedule, or a heavy workload scheduled for last week’s session — they did also wrap medical marijuana and pursue revising the state’s abortion laws — but to let this legislation sit another month, or fall apart completely, is unacceptable.
Any piece of legislation to emerge from Harrisburg on sex abuse must include retroactivity, otherwise it’s useless.
Data show victims of these crimes too often do not speak of their assaults for years, once the statute of limitations has run its course. The horrific stories to emerge from the Altoona-Johnstown diocese earlier this year, which outlined a decadeslong history of abuse, won’t lead to prosecution because too much time has passed.
“All I want is justice,” said Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, after describing his own abuse as a child during a floor speech.
“I want justice for all my friends who have been sexually abused. They knew what they did — they covered it up. And now they need to be held accountable. That’s the bottom line.”
The statute of limitations on the physical and psychological effects of these hideous crimes never run their course. The law should reflect that, and party affiliation or a limited legislative calender should not stop lawmakers from doing the right thing.