Pa. House weighs major changes to child sex abuse law

    Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Murt

    Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Murt

    The state House is poised to consider major changes to the statutes of limitations on child sex abuse cases in Pennsylvania, one month after the release of a grand jury’s findings that the clergy of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic diocese covered up of child sex abuse allegations for decades.

    The bill, passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would eliminate the time limit for bringing criminal charges in a child sex abuse case. It expands the timeframe for bringing civil suits, giving victims until they’re 50 years old, instead of 30.

    Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who has renewed his public crusade for statute-of-limitations reforms since the Altoona-Johnstown case was made public, said the plan should also include a two-year period when even expired cases can be brought by law enforcement and victims, since so many weren’t ready to confront their abusers until well after the statute of limitations had expired.

    “When we talk about the hundreds of victims that have been abused,” said Rozzi, “this bill does nothing for them.”

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    He plans to amend the bill when it reaches the House floor.

    Opponents of the two-year retroactive window for prosecution and civil suits said it’s unconstitutional and would create problems for insurers.

    The proposal also includes a last-minute change opening up schools and government entities to civil suits in certain child sex abuse cases. Rozzi suggested that the controversial provision could doom the measure.

    Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, the Judiciary Committee chairman, couldn’t say when the measure might receive a final vote in the House, although a preliminary vote is expected Wednesday.

    Marsico insists that he has been working on statute-of-limitations reforms for years. Rozzi and Rep. Tom Murt, R-Montgomery, have accused Marsico of bottling up legislative action, but Marsico said he made a “handshake” deal with Rozzi in February that he would move a more narrowly tailored bill eliminating the criminal time limit for abuse cases this spring.

    “I’m tired of getting blasted on this thing by Rozzi and Murt,” said Marsico. “I can tell you that.”

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