Pa. Senate tees up constitutional amendment opening civil window for sex abuse survivors

By: - December 16, 2020 11:18 am

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairperson Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne.

A senior Republican in the state Senate says she’s prioritizing approval of legislation that would amend the state constitution to open a two-year retroactive window in which survivors of sexual abuse could bring civil suits against offenders in old cases.

The bill, a proposed amendment to the state Constitution, cleared the state House and Senate in the most recent legislative session. House and Senate approval in next year’s legislative session would put the amendment on track for approval by voters at a statewide referendum as soon as next spring’s primary election.

“By passing identical legislation in two consecutive sessions, we are ensuring that this change to the statute of limitations occurs in a constitutionally-sound manner. This legislation is a top priority and will be considered at the first meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairperson Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said in a statement released by her office.

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The civil window was among the recommendations included in 2018 grand jury report by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office that uncovered decades of child sexual abuse and coverup in six of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses, the Capital-Star previously reported.

Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, himself an abuse survivor, and other reformers agreed to pursue the amendment in 2019 in the face of opposition by then-Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who said authorizing the two-year window in statute was unconstitutional and would prompt costly lawsuits.

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In a statement, Gregory said he welcomed Baker’s call for swift action, saying that the “historic nature of this legislation will allow the people of Pennsylvania to very soon make their voices heard to repair the damage of decades of abuse by providing the ‘two-year window’ for victims to be heard.”

Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer R. Storm told the Capital-Star last year that the look-back provision will face legal challenges irrespective of how it’s authorized. Pursuing the reform as a constitutional amendment will only prolong those legal battles and force victims to wait longer to see their day in court, Storm told the Capital-Star in 2019.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.