HARRISBURG - For more than a year, victims of childhood sexual abuse have been trying to get a public hearing on a bill that would make it easier for them to sue their abusers.
Yesterday, it was decided they would get their hearing - just not a vote on the legislation.
The House Committee on Children and Youth said it was scheduling a June 12 meeting to examine the issue of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has on victims' lives. But the hearing will not specifically address a long-stalled bill calling for a two-year suspension on the statute of limitations for civil actions by adults who were victims of sexual abuse during childhood.
That measure has been bottled up in the powerful House Judiciary Committee since May of last year. Earlier this month, the committee's chairman, Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone (D., Berks), told The Inquirer he would not allow a public hearing on the measure.
Since then, some of the bill's advocates have pushed to move the hearing to another House committee. But because of House rules, that hearing cannot be on the bill's specifics, just on the issue of childhood sexual abuse. So it will not move the bill toward a vote.
Aside from Caltagirone, both the state's insurance industry and the Catholic Church have opposed the measure.
"I have mixed feelings about this," said John Salveson, president of the Bryn Mawr-based Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse and a childhood victim of clergy abuse.
"On the one hand, it's great to have the chance to bring this issue before any audience," he said. "But at the end of the day, our goal is to change the law. And to do that, we have to return to the bill stuck in the Judiciary Committee."
Caltagirone could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In an interview earlier this month, Caltagirone made unusually blunt comments about the bill that incensed victims of sexual abuse.
Caltagirone said he believed the legislation was about one thing: money. He also insisted he would not allow a public hearing on it.
In the interview, Caltagirone said victims had a recourse against their abusers: criminal courts. Told that it takes some victims a long time to come to terms with their abuse, Caltagirone said: "So, 32 years later, people will remember exactly what took place?"
A hearing "would create false hopes . . . and be nothing but a dog-and-pony show, and I'm not interested in a dog-and-pony show," he said.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Bennington (D., Allegheny), seeks to change the current statute of limitations, which gives victims until age 30 to bring a civil action for such acts as rape, incest and sexual assault. The bill would give victims until age 50 to bring such an action.
It would also create a two-year window allowing adult victims to sue for abuse that occurred decades ago. Advocates of the bill say it often takes victims years, if not decades, to face what happened to them as children, often running out both the criminal and the civil statutes of limitations.