2-year Window for Child Sex Abuse Suits Divides Negotiators in Pennsylvania
By Mark Scolforo
October 12, 2018
|In an Aug. 14 file photo, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro holds a press conference on a grand jury report documenting decades of clerical abuse in the state's Catholic Church. (Credit: Matt Rourke/AP.)|
A Pennsylvania House Democrat negotiating legislation to help victims of child sexual abuse on Friday rejected an approach recently circulated by the top-ranking Senate Republican.
Rep. Mark Rozzi said he had several problems with a document he received Thursday from the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
“As far as I’m concerned, negotiations are over. My three words for the Senate are simply this: prepare for war,” Rozzi said in his Capitol office. “We’re coming.”
The House last month voted for a two-year window for abuse victims to file civil lawsuits over claims that would otherwise be barred by time limits in state law.
Scarnati has argued that a two-year retroactive window would violate the state constitution. His outline does not include such a window, and the Senate could vote on the matter next week, as the current legislative session nears its end.
A state investigative grand jury report issued in August, drawing from secret Church files, found hundreds of Catholic priests abused children over seven decades. It recommended a window be established because under current law, victims of child sexual abuse have until age 30 to sue.
Scarnati’s top aide, Drew Crompton, said the document was a way to share information “with a small group of interested parties in order to continue good faith conversations on behalf of Sen. Scarnati.”
The document was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Crompton said Scarnati’s proposal of a compensation fund was evidence the Senate leader has “moved off his position.” The outline he sent out Thursday talks of giving victims one year to file a claim with a “tribunal, managed by judges” that would oversee it. The document does not say where the money would come from, how much money would be available or who would be eligible.
The Scarnati document also backs removing the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions going forward, which is widely supported, and makes other changes recommended by the grand jury.
It would impose more strict reporting requirements for suspected abuse and state that nondisclosure agreements could not stop the victim who signed it from reporting their abuse to police. A registry would be established to list perpetrators.
Rozzi, who spoke publicly about his own abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, has become a House leader on the subject. He said he had been in talks with Scarnati over the bill, and on Tuesday Scarnati told him he would send him language.
Rozzi said he supports the idea of a compensation fund along with a two-year window, but not without it.
He said the fund could end up as a way for the Church and others to “buy off these claims super cheap.” Some victims, he said, want the kind of disclosure that a lawsuit could provide, while others prefer the process of compensation through a fund.
Sam Marshall, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, an industry group, responded favorably to the Scarnati document.
“This seems to be a comprehensive and constitutional approach to eradicating the horrors of child abuse documented in the grand jury report,” Marshall said.
The state’s Catholic dioceses have endorsed the idea of a fund.
At a news conference Friday morning in Norristown to push lawmakers to act in the coming days, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro insisted that the two-year window should be part of the deal.
“I don’t know how any responsible lawmaker who actually took the time to read this grand jury report could vote against these survivors, could vote against supporting these grand jury reforms,” Shapiro said.
He said the grand jury report had shocked people in the state, and warned state senators not to ignore the grand jury’s recommended changes.