Leaders of the Pennsylvania Senate on Monday introduced a bill to extend the amount of time that future victims of child sexual abuse would have to sue or prosecute their attackers, reviving a controversial measure that led to a legislative standoff before it collapsed late last year.
The bill, introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, seeks to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for prospective cases of child sexual abuse and would allow future victims to sue their attackers at any age. Currently, victims may sue only for 12 years after their 18th birthday.
Scarnati's bill excluded the one provision that victim advocates and prosecutors have sought for more than a decade and that recently led to a pitched legislative battle in Harrisburg: a change that would allow victims of past abuse to sue for what happened to them many years ago. That was the centerpiece of a bill passed by the House last year and that vanished in the Senate at Scarnati's urging amid lobbying by the Catholic Church and the insurance industry.
Scarnati last year backed a version that would not allow retroactive application of the civil statute of limitations for victims up to the age of 50. Scarnati said the bill he put forth Monday replicated the one that died after the House declined to act on it. He said he does not support allowing people to sue for decades-old abuse because of concerns it would violate the state constitution.
Church and insurance lobbyists had opposed the bill on similar grounds, while prosecutors and victim advocates believed the courts should decide the mater. "Clearly, my view and my stance hasn't changed, because the constitution hasn't changed," Scarnati said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that ended with a unanimous vote to move it to the full Senate.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Scarnati said the bill could be voted on final passage as early as this week.
Advocates last year waged a fierce battle led by Berks County Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi, a childhood priest abuse survivor. Rozzi did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Neither did a spokesman for House Republicans.
Rep. Tom Murt (R., Bucks), a Catholic who also fought for a bill that would allow retroactive lawsuit rights, said he would push to amend Scarnati's bill if necessary.
A state grand jury led by the Attorney General's Office is investigating clergy abuse allegations at multiple Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
"I'm not so sure there is compromise on the constitution, but there are other items we can certainly discuss with the House," Scarnati said when asked how he would resolve the differences on retroactivity.