Committees advance bills related to sex abuse scandal

Altoona Mirror

April 16, 2019

By Robert Swift

Two House committees advanced bills Monday to implement some of the lesser-known recommendations of last year’s state grand jury report on child sex abuse.

The grand jury, which identified more than 300 priests accused of sexually abusing thousands of children over the course of decades, made four recommendations for legislative action. The two proposals concerning Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases have gotten the most public attention so far.

The committees on Monday tackled the jury recommendations dealing with confidentiality agreements for child sex abuse victims and reporting requirements for suspicions of child sex abuse.

The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve House Bill 1171, sponsored by Rep. Tarah Toohill, R-Luzerne, to specify that civil confidentiality agreements with abuse victims that include bans on communicating with law enforcement are “void and unenforceable.” The bill would apply to past and present confidentiality agreements.

The bill is a response to a jury finding that Catholic dioceses used these non-disclosure agreements to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement, said Toohill.

Passing the bill will enable law enforcement inform to inform victims that they can speak out, she added.

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