Statute of limitations bill for child sex abuse victims unconstitutional, top state lawyer says

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HARRISBURG, Pa. --State Representative Mark Rozzi walked onto the Capitol steps after a three-hour Senate hearing, incredulous to what he had just heard.

"That whole hearing reeked of being set up," he said.

On Monday, nearly two months since the state House passed HB1947 by a bi-partisan 180-15 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the bill which would reform Pennsylvania's child sex abuse laws. House Bill 1947 would eliminate the statute of limitations for future child sex crimes and allow victims to retroactively seek lawsuits against their abusers.

However, after the hearing, Rozzi cried foul play, claiming the witness list was stacked heavily in favor of those advocating against the constitutionality of the bill.

"Two of the people who testified today, one represented the (Pennsylvania) Catholic Conference and the other represented the insurance federation. We were set up!" Rozzi shouted.

Rozzi (D-Berks) is a victim himself of clergy sex abuse as a child, and has been trying to reform the state's statute of limitations laws for years, calling the current set of rules "bulls---" in Monday's post-hearing press conference.

His anger was directed mainly towards Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Republican Stewart Greenleaf, and state Solicitor General Bruce Castor, who testified that HB1947, as it is currently written, is unconstitutional.

"We think House Bill 1947 is a wonderful concept but with one small constitutional flaw," Castor said.

Basing his legal opinion of previous state rulings, Castor, the state's second-highest ranked lawyer, called the retroactive lawsuit aspect of HB1947 unconstitutional, while lauding the remainder of the bill.

"It is only because the Pennsylvania Constitution provides greater protection than the U.S. Constitution I am rendering this opinion today," Castor said. He later added that the Pennsylvania General Assembly consider amending the Constitution to remove the "remedies clause", which prohibits the retroactive aspect of House Bill 1947.

Prior to Castor's testimony, Attorney General Kathleen Kane appeared to give a brief statement in support of the bill's passage.

"I am speaking on behalf of children and survivors," she read from a prepared statement. "I am asking, begging, for you to pass this bill."