One of the first things on the agenda when lawmakers return to Harrisburg this month will be a bill that makes it easier for people who were sexually abused as children to sue their abusers.
The House appears poised to pass a version of the measure that allows retroactive suits; Senate leaders, however, are still resisting that provision.
The bill has been in the works for several years, and support for its various components has been in flux that whole time.
As the pre-summer session was winding down, Berks County Democratic Representative Mark Rozzi — a key voice on the abuse issue — said he got bad news from GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai.
Turzai, Rozzi said, would no longer support Rozzi’s version of the abuse bill that passed the House two years ago. It would have given abuse victims 20 additional years to sue on statute-limited cases.
Now though, Turzai has come out in support of a new proposal that would open a two-year window for suits on old abuse cases.
“People like Turzai who did support it before, and then decided to pull back, and now come out in full support of it — I have nothing but praise and respect for him to be able to make this decision, to do what is right for the victims,” Rozzi said.
House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said he thinks the retroactive version of the bill will pass the chamber.
“The speaker’s goal is, and always was, to get something to the governor,” Miskin said.
However, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati remains opposed to the retroactivity clause — saying he believes it violates the state constitution.
He supports an independent victim fund instead.
Rozzi argued, it’s not clear how the state Supreme Court would rule on the retroactivity provision — and he added, constitutional concerns haven’t stopped the legislature from passing controversial bills in the past.
“We pass unconstitutional abortion bills,” he said. “They never stop those bills from moving.”
The abuse issue has been at the fore in Harrisburg since a sweeping, damning grand jury report on sexual misconduct within the Catholic Church was released last month.
The report — which covers eight decades — implicated 300 priests in abuse of more than 1,000 children.