Pennsylvania House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, presides over a special session to pass statute of limitations reform for sexual abuse survivors on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall)
A longtime champion of legislation that would allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their attackers implored the Pennsylvania Senate to pass one of four bills sent to the upper chamber by the state House.
With a 147-54 vote, the House on Tuesday passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would give survivors a two-year exemption from the civil statute of limitations, which bars many victims from suing after age 30.
Although the proposal has had strong bipartisan support, Republicans, who control the Senate, have staunchly insisted that the amendment be bundled with other proposals on voter identification, election audits and legislative review of regulations from the executive branch.
Former House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, noted that in addition to the constitutional amendment bill passed Tuesday, the House also passed an identical bill in a special session in February under his leadership. The House has also passed legislation twice that would statutorily create a two-year window for survivors to sue.
“Republicans and Democrats together, we’ve always come through for victims. Now it’s time that the Senate comes through and moves one of these four pieces of legislation that they will have to give victims their day in court,” Rozzi said.
A spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, did not respond to a request for comment.
Rozzi, who ran for office after confronting his own abuse by a priest, said survivors want the ability to sue their attackers and the organizations that protected them to prevent abuse from continuing.
“They want to expose their perpetrators. They want to expose their perpetrators to protect your children – your grandchildren,” Rozzi said.
Rozzi said many people wrongly think the desire to sue abusers is about money, but he pointed to the compensation funds established by Catholic dioceses across the state from which many victims received “pennies on the dollar” for their claims.
“It’s never going to put their life back together. They will struggle forever,” Rozzi said, adding that he lives with the memory of his own assault every day.
Rozzi and Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, were the prime co-sponsors of the survivors’ amendment, which has passed numerous times in the General Assembly.
To amend the constitution, a proposed change must be approved by the House and Senate in consecutive legislative sessions before going to voters in a referendum.
The survivors’ amendment was set to be on the ballot in 2021 but the Department of State failed to properly advertise the proposal and the referendum was not held.
Both chambers approved the amendment again in 2022 and vowed to make it a priority in this year’s session but a dispute over control of the House meant lawmakers could not vote in time to make a deadline for the primary election.
Senate Republican leadership maintains that the upper chamber fulfilled a promise to pass the proposed window at the beginning of the current legislative session, and urged the House to pass the package of amendments as presented.
In March, Ward and Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, told reporters that the three proposals in the constitutional amendment package reflect top priorities for GOP lawmakers.
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