A package of bills involving reform for childhood sexual abuse statute of limitations reform now goes before Gov. Tom Wolf as the Pennsylvania House passed the measure Thursday. The state Senate passed it Wednesday.
Only one of Delaware County's legislators, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-166, of Haverford.,voted against the measure. State Reps. Brian Kirkland, D-159, of Chester, Stephen Barrar, R-160, of Upper Chichester, Leanne Krueger, D-161, of Swarthmore, Dave Delloso, D-162, of Ridley Park, Mike Zabel, D-163, of Upper Darby, Margo Davidson, D-164, of Upper Darby, Jennifer O'Mara, D-165, of Springfield and Chris Quinn, R-168, of Middletown, voted in favor of the bills.
The package included four bills, HB 962, HB 963, HB 1051 and HB 1171, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, extend the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse until the victim is 55 years old and waive immunity for governmental agencies for such crimes.
The package also starts a process to create a constitutional amendment to create a two-year window to allow survivors who have aged out of the current process to sue for damages. What must follow is the House and Senate now must again both pass the package in the next legislative session and then it would be placed on the ballot for voters to have their say, which could be as early as spring 2021.
"For years, I've been fighting relentlessly for victims of childhood sexual abuse," state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126 of Berks County, said. "During that time, we've seen countless examples of the hidden epidemic of child sexual abuse and the cover-up of institutions as more and more survivors shared their stories. We could have and should have reformed the statute of limitations years ago, but we're finally making progress today. This has been a long road that required compromise, given the political dynamic in Pennsylvania. But, finally, victims are closer to being guaranteed the ability to seek justice."
A survivor of abuse at the hands of his parish priest as a youth, Rozzi had introduced HB 962 and advocated for reform for years.
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Montgomery County, Pa., sponsored HB 1051, which would make it a third-degree felony as opposed to a first-degree misdemeanor for ongoing failure to report continued sexual abuse against children.
"I want the law to be crystal clear - anyone who knows of ongoing child abuse and fails to act will face harsh penalties under the law," he said.
State senators passed the measure earlier in the week and both of Delaware County's senators voted in favor of the measure.
"There is no more heinous offense than one committed against a child," state Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, said. "For decades, Catholic bishops have systematically protected and shielded predator priests from criminal prosecution and civil penalties. With the package of bills passed by the Senate, ... a path has been established to hold to account the abusers of those who have been denied justice as well as those who enabled that abuse. I am proud to have voted for these four important bills and stand in solidarity with those who cry out for justice."
State Sen. Tim Kearney, D-26,of Swarthmore, said although he voted in favor of the legislation, he wanted more.
"I stand by my legislation," he said, "and I stand with the survivors whom these bills leave behind. We will not take the pressure off our legislative leaders until we ensure justice for all survivors of sexual assault, regardless of age. I will keep fighting for all victims because we can, and we must, do better."
Kearney is the prime sponsor of SB 540, which would eliminate the criminal and civil statue of limitations for sexual abuse that occurred at any age while also creating a two-year window for survivors to revive claims that expired.