Bill to aid child sex abuse victims could be gutted, Rozzi says

“Who has the backbone to stand up to fight to protect the children in this commonwealth past, present and future?” Rozzi asked. “If we don’t open that door, we’re not going to be able to get the fresh air in to give the victims an opportunity to heal.”

| 6/23/16 | Liam Migdail-Smith | Reading Eagle |

Advocates for overhauling Pennsylvania’s child sex abuse laws say they expect a key state Senate committee to water down the proposal.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, the Muhlenberg Township Democrat behind the bill, said Wednesday he believes the Senate Judiciary Committee will remove a provision supporters say is critical to giving victims a chance for justice. The provision would allow some victims to sue for assaults that happened decades ago.

Rozzi, who was raped by a priest as a teen, said he’s holding out hope that once the bill reaches the full Senate, changes made by the committee are reversed.

“Who has the backbone to stand up to fight to protect the children in this commonwealth past, present and future?” Rozzi asked. “If we don’t open that door, we’re not going to be able to get the fresh air in to give the victims an opportunity to heal.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that sources said the committee planned to make the changes Rozzi described.

The bill, which cleared the House in April, would end time limits for victims to pursue criminal charges. It would also raise the limit for lawsuits against their abusers and organizations that shield them to age 50. The limits are now age 30 for civil cases and age 50 for criminal cases.

The piece in question would make the changes to civil action retroactive, allowing victims up to age 50 who had been blocked from filing lawsuits a chance to pursue claims in court.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, said changes to the bill are being negotiated that may include a provision making it easier for victims abused in the past to sue if they can prove evidence was fraudulently concealed.

A Montgomery County Republican, Greenleaf said he couldn’t give a timeline for a vote and would decide his position on any changes, including whether to remove the retroactive language, at the time of the vote.

Last week, state Solicitor General Bruce L. Castor and other speakers told the committee the retroactive part would run afoul of the state Constitution. Supporters of the plan disagreed and said its constitutionality was only questioned to give senators cover to block it.

Catholic Church leaders and the insurance industry have lobbied hard against the plan, particularly the retroactive piece.

Church leaders say it would punish today’s Catholics for wrongdoings of the past by opening the church to a flood of lawsuits that would be difficult to defend against and would sap resources from other church functions.

Supporters say the retroactive change is needed to provide overdue justice to victims who were blocked by institutions covering up for pedophiles. They say lawsuits don’t just help victims recoup the financial damage of abuse but also serve to expose pedophiles, encourage other victims to come forward and reveal institutional records about abuse.

Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or lsmith@readingeagle.com.

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