Harrisburg – While legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) that would eliminate criminal and civil statutes of limitation in certain child sexual abuse cases was scheduled for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee this week, the bill was ultimately passed over so committee members could further discuss the legislation with a possible aim toward amending the legislation at a future committee meeting.
“We have some new members on the committee, so they needed more time to go over the bill, read the bill, discuss the bill, be educated on the bill and also (offer) possible amendments,” said committee Majority Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) about why Senate Bill 261 was put off.
The bill is tentatively scheduled to run in committee, where potential amendments might be considered on April 4, when the House returns from its scheduled recess next week.
What could the bill look like when it comes out of committee? According to Marsico, the amendments likely to be offered will change the legislation to make it look like it did when the House version of the legislation passed out of his committee last session.
“The bill that came out of committee last session, we are looking to possibly go in that direction, but we also have to discuss the Senate bill and the House bill with the committee members – especially the new members,” he said. “They need to understand the differences and distinctions between the two when we have enough time to do that.”
That bill from last session he is referring to completely eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for serious sexual offenses committed when a victim is a minor and increased the civil statute of limitations to when a person attains the age of 50.
Additionally, the bill was changed in the House Judiciary Committee last session to waive sovereign immunity from state and local governments in cases of gross negligence regarding the sexual abuse.
More important to the overall debate, the legislation as it advanced from committee last session did not include a retroactivity component that proponents of more comprehensive child sexual abuse statute of limitations reform say is a necessary component to ensuring all current victims have the ability to pursue claims that are currently barred by the civil statute of limitations.
In that vein, the lead supporter of the retroactivity clause, Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), has introduced his own statute of limitations reform legislation, House Bill 612, which he has dubbed “The Real Deal.”
"Past victims of these crimes should also have the opportunity to depose records, expose predators and hold individuals and institutions accountable that cover up crimes," Rozzi said in a statement upon the bill's introduction.
“In light of what we now know given our experience with Sandusky, Cosby, the Boy Scouts, the Solebury School, Episcopal Academy, Chestnut Hill Academy, the Plum School District and countless other perpetrators and institutions, any attempt to pass legislation without the all-important window is a travesty. It's time to get this right in Harrisburg.”
While the Senate has in recent history stripped retroactivity components out of similar legislation over constitutionality concerns, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, business groups, and insurance associations have also come out opposed to the provision due to its far-reaching financial implications, among other reasons.
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg bureau chief for The PLS Reporter, a non-partisan, online news site devoted to covering Pennsylvania government.