House committee votes through two child sex abuse bills

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The House Judiciary Committee voted two bills through, that aim to change the way child sex abuse victims can file charges, but it might take a lot longer for their changes to take effect.

For years, Pennsylvania has been in the spotlight for sexual abuse cases being mishandled. From Sandusky, to multiple grand jury reports into the Catholic church.

State Representative Mark Rozzi created a bill that would eliminate a statute of limitations on any crime, raise the current age to file a civil lawsuit from 30 to 50, and allow current abuse victims a two year window to retroactively seek damages. But members of the Senate said that was unconstitutional.

So Rozzi and State Representative Jim Gregory split the bill in two.

The first bill, Gregory's, includes the constitutional amendment that would create a 2-year window for victims of public and private institutions to be able to sue their abusers and their institutions.

"If we're going to take care of that one question that he has had, that constitutional question, the remedies clause, and we remove it, giving it to the people of Pennsylvania to vote for, say 'this is what we want,' what's left?" Gregory said.

The second bill, Rozzi's, would take care of the rest, eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, and raising the age to file a civil lawsuit to 55.

"Every time we pass that two-year window in the statutory type of change, and we send it to the senate, it has failed because the leaders in the senate keep saying, 'it's unconstitutional, it's unconstitutional," Rozzi said. "So that's why we've come together and said, 'okay well if you keep saying that then lets give them a bill that they cannot say that anymore'."

But would splitting these bills increase the risk that one of them won't reach the finish line?

Rozzi's response? Pick your poison.

"This process could take 2-3 years but for most victims that come to this Capitol building they have been fighting for 15 years already," Rozzi said. "And if we're not going to get that type of statutory change in the next 2-4-6-8-10 years, why not at least start this process of at least the movement forward to getting the voters of PA to vote on this?"

Kristen Houser with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape said they want a bill that will provide access to justice for the most amount of people, and doesn't care what method it takes to get there.

"We've been working on trying to reform the statute now for a decade," Houser said. "But there's nothing that you can do about it other than move forward so that's what we will do and try to get the law changed."

The bills are expected to pass the full house vote. The earliest that could happen is Wednesday. Gregory's bill has to pass two consecutive sessions, plus a referendum vote, because it's a constitutional amendment. The earliest that could happen is 2021.

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