Partisan stalemate keeps child sexual assault lawsuit window from advancing in Pennsylvania

Child sexual abuse survivors are pressing Pennsylvania lawmakers to move ahead with opening a two-year window for them to file otherwise outdated lawsuits over their claims.

Rally outside of the Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa

Caleb Kauffman, at podium, speaks at a rally outside of the Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., June 5, 2023. Kauffman, a survivor and advocate, and others were calling on the state Senate to pass two pieces of legislation that would open a two-year window for child sex abuse survivors to file otherwise outdated lawsuits over their claim. (AP Photo/Brooke Schultz)

Child sexual abuse survivors pressed Pennsylvania lawmakers Monday to move ahead with opening a two-year window for them to file otherwise outdated lawsuits over their claims, but a partisan fight in the Legislature kept the proposal bottled up with no resolution in sight.

Amid the stalemate, survivors renewed calls for the Legislature to pass either version of the measure — one that would give voters final say on the window in the form of a constitutional amendment, the other legislation that would also need Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s signature.

Speaking at a rally on the Capitol’s exterior front steps, Amish, Mennonite and Plain people were among those who recounted abuse they had endured and urged passage of the window.

“Here we are again fighting for our rights as victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse who have been waiting many, many years for the opportunity for justice, to find out the truth, to hold our perpetrators accountable, to hold institutions accountable,” said Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat who has championed the legislation for years.

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grand jury report found in 2018 that hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, and senior church officials, systematically covered up the abuse.

Following the report, and as lawmakers pursued legislation, the Pennsylvania diocese set up compensation funds and made payments to victims.

Both chambers have passed their own version of the measure that would temporarily waive the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes, and the House voted for it with bipartisan support in February.

The Republican majority Senate bundled the measure with two GOP-favored initiatives: expanding voter ID requirements and lowering the threshold to invalidate state regulations pushed through by a governor’s administration. The three constitutional amendments passed the Senate on a nearly party-line vote in January.

The House took up the Senate’s version of the bill last month and stripped out the GOP-penned priorities. That bill would now have to be voted on in the Senate in its current form before it could go before voters. The Senate has shown no appetite for paring down its bundle of proposed amendments.

Kate Flessner, a spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, said her caucus “remains open to conversations about how to accomplish all three of the important constitutional amendments initially included” in their version of the bill.

It marks another hurdle for effort, which legislators had passed with bipartisan support more than two years ago, but mishandling from the state meant it never went before voters, and legislators had to begin the process again.

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