HARRISBURG, Pa. – The state House overwhelmingly passed a proposal Tuesday to give victims of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania have a chance to file lawsuits over the claims that would otherwise be too outdated to aspire to, but a key Senate leader said the current design had “dire problems” that required more work.
The House voted 173-21 without debate to send the Senate a bill for the creation of a two-year window for litigation, a way for older victims to pursue lawsuits that fall outside of the state of the statute of limitations.
The creation of such a window was one of the recommendations in a member state of the grand jury report last month that found hundreds of Roman Catholic priests abused children in the state going back to the 1940’s, and that church officials covered.
After a closed-door consultation between Senate Republicans to discuss the bill, most of the leaders emerged to say that they plan to make additional changes, with mention of the grand jury recommendations to stop nondisclosure agreements in civil settlements of a ban on contact with the police and the changes in the rules for the reporting of suspected child abuse.
The majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said his members are also concerned that the amended bill deals with victims of governmental organisations, such as schools, other than the victims of private institutions, such as churches. There is a heavier burden of proof, and a cap on damages in suits against governmental targets.
“We don’t think public employees should have a shield that private not,” Corman said.
Asked about the two-year window, he said: “We have not decided yet no, or yes.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he supports the House bill and urged the Senate to act.
“If we are not able to protect the victims of these heinous acts, we may very well lose the trust of the people we represent, of those who are most in need of defense, the protection of the support,” Wolf said.
The bill in its current form, would give victims until age 50 to file lawsuits (currently limited to the age of 30 years) and the elimination of the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution.
After the House vote, Rep. Mark Rozzi told fellow members: “go home and be proud and let people know you stood with the victims.”
Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat who was abused as a teen by a now deceased priest, is meant to be a heavily traveled bridge in Harrisburg to make a point about what might happen to the bill in the Senate. It was Rozzi amendment with the two-year window that was approved by the House on Monday.
“This is a great day for Pennsylvania, a good start,” he said on the floor Tuesday. “I know that some of you are worried about maybe what the Senate will do. But if the Senate decides to jump on the Harvey Taylor Bridge, that’s their decision.”
The bill was unanimously approved by the senate early last year to give the victims until the age of 50 years to persecute and eliminate the statute of limitations for related offenses, but that proposal has no retroactive effect for civil lawsuits.
“The House had this bill for 20 months, we will respond in the days,” Corman said. “And we are committed to ensure that we have a bill back to the House in time for them to join.” After this week, both chambers will be in session for a few days in October.
Pennsylvania’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses said at the end of last week they were prepared to a from the victims compensation fund, but gave no details about the funding or how it might work.