Pennsylvania House fight over statute of limitations for child sex victims intensifies

(Penn Live) A top midstate legislator said Monday he will not support efforts to create a temporary “window” for victims of long-ago child sex abuse cases to bring new civil suits against their alleged abusers or the institutions that employed them.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico’s statement, coming after closed-door party caucuses on two amendments to create the so-called window, immediately cast doubt on whether supporters can force their proposal through the General Assembly this session.

A Republican from Lower Paxton Township, Marsico cited Constitutional concerns with revoking existing deadlines.

If that becomes the line upon which opponents choose to rally around, it could become a recurring theme every time the issue is brought up.

It was not clear Monday night, however, if Marsico had enough support to sustain his constitutional objection. All votes on the underlying legislation, House Bill 342, were postponed after caucuses today.

At present, child sex abuse victims only have until age 30 to bring civil claims against their abusers.

Here’s what Marsico said about the window amendments attached to H.B. 342 by Democrat Reps. Michael McGeehan of Philadelphia and Mark Rozzi of Berks County.

“While it might feel satisfying to pass a bill that includes a window, any such provision would simply give false hopes to a victim whose civil claim has been barred by the existing statute-of-limitations because it would later be declared unconstitutional by the court,” Marsico said.
“Those victims deserve better than to be given such false hope, only to see it snatched away.”
Marsico’s statement was quickly denounced by McGeehan, who has supported a window for civil cases ever since major and long-running abuses within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia emerged in the last decade.
McGeehan noted similar civil case windows have been enacted in California and Delaware and survived court challenges. He argued the constitutional argument is simply a way to provide cover for those who would stand with insurers, the church and other lobbies that have opposed the change.
The window legislation has been a top priority for many victim advocacy groups.
Supporters argue that a belated ability to sue validates victims who have wrestled for years with their abuse, exposes perpetrators who may still be out there, and helps assure an end to years of cover-up by churches, school districts, camps and other entities.
“The only way they change their behavior is to make it too expensive for them not to follow the rules,” McGeehan said.
Opponents, meanwhile, have argued it’s not fair to expose potential suspects and institutions to financial liability for allegations that may have little supporting evidence, and they say its patently unfair to insurers to change deadlines after they’ve expired.
Steve Miskin, press secretary to House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, said it was not clear after Monday’s caucuses whether leaders will bring the bill to the floor this week.
“There are real concerns about this type of legislation,” Miskin said, referring to the amendments, adding “we didn’t finish the conversation.”
But McGeehan, for his part, suggested that he will not back down if GOP leaders ask him to drop his amendment. “If this bill runs, this amendment will run,” he said.
Marsico could not be reached to elaborate on his prepared statement for this story, but in it he pledged to offer a bill removing the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions of all future child sexual abuse cases.
At present, child victims have until age 50 to make criminal complaints.
“That way, justice will always be served because no one who sexually abuses a child then will ever be free from criminal prosecution merely because of a lapse statute-of-limitation,” Marsico said.