HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives moved Wednesday to harder penalties for people who do not report suspicions about repeated sexual abuse of children and make it explicit that confidentiality terms in contracts can’t prevent people talking to the police in a child abuse investigation.
Both proposals are based on recommendations in a landmark grand jury report last year in the sexual abuse of children by about 300 Roman Catholic priests in the state, back seven decades.
Lawmakers voted 162-22 for the reporting proposal .
The only member who spoke in opposition was Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, who said that it will be difficult for people to remember, decades later, the reason why they don’t report suspected abuse.
“Our right under the law is slipping away through our fingers while we do nothing,” Lam said.
Lawmakers are also considering legislation to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children. If that goes, it will also apply to a mandate reporters who do not report current abuse.
Also Wednesday, representatives of the states unanimously approved a bill that says nondisclosure agreements , often part of the civilian settlements in abuse cases, determine that they will not prevent the cooperation with the police.
The main sponsor, Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Lucerne, said that contracts are not enforceable, but the bill’s additional provisions would spell it out’, written in black and white.”
Both bills were sent to the Senate. There, on the top lawyer for the majority Republicans said, they will be reviewed to see how they compare to the legislation that was drafted in that room last year, but never brought to a vote.
“The grand jury has the general recommendations, but no precise language was offered. As the Home to the accounts, in accordance to what we wrote last year, then we will likely consider the bills,” said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.
Toohil said the targets of the grand jury investigation abused nondisclosure agreements in an attempt to silence abuse victims and keep them from the cooperation with the police.
The state House is also sent to the Senate legislation based another grand jury recommendation: a constitutional amendment that would create a two-year window for victims to bring civil claims over abuse that would otherwise be too old, to persecute.
The state attorney general, Democrat Josh Shapiro, said the House action is a clear step forward. Shapiro’s office is responsible for the grand jury of the investigation.
“Just as our commonwealth was a leader in the investigation and prosecution of clergy sexual abuse, it is imperative that Pennsylvania is now a leader in the introduction of reforms to protect victims and to ensure this type of abuse and cover-up can never happen again,” Shapiro said in a statement. “I stand with survivors as we urge the Pennsylvania Senate to quickly pass the grand jury reform.”