Quick-moving Bill Draws Focus Back To Child Sex Abuse Laws

Feb 2, 2017

A proposal to extend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases is on a fast-track through the state Senate.

It's the exact same measure as a bill that died in the House last session, and for that reason, it's likely to see the same resistance when it reaches the House this time around.

The bill--sponsored by Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati--would eliminate time limits on childhood sexual abuse victims filing lawsuits against their abusers.

Current law requires victims to file criminal suits against their attackers by age 50, and civil suits by 30.

But once again, the measure isn't retroactive, meaning victims who didn't sue within the current time limit would still be out of luck.

Democratic Representative Mark Rozzi of Berks County is a survivor of child sex abuse and one of the legislature's staunchest advocates for a retroactivity clause. He didn't support the bill last time, and says this effort won't be any different.

"[Scarnati and I] have two separate ideas," he said. "He only wants to protect victims moving forward. I want to not only protect victims moving forward, I want to protect victims in the present, and I also want to protect victims in the past."

Scarnati's chief of staff, Drew Crompton, said the senator won't compromise on the retroactivity clause because he thinks it's unconstitutional.

"[Scarnati] also questions the positive public policy of it," Crompton added. "Both specifically as it relates to this issue, and also the precedent it would set."

Rozzi said constitutionality should be decided in the courts, not the legislature.

"Child sex abuse is not your standard crime," he said. "These kids and myself...it's taken us years to come forward and talk about it. And that's what he's not getting. You're either not getting that, or you're protecting the church."

Rozzi introduced his own bill Tuesday that does include a retroactivity clause, among other differences. He said he's willing to work on Scarnati's bill, but won't accept its current form.

One of the most vocal opponents of the retroactivity clause has been the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference--a powerful, church-affiliated lobbying group.