Sex abuse bill won’t get a vote

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A controversial proposal to extend the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims will not get a vote this year.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, who was abused by a priest as a child, has championed the effort.

Earlier this year an investigation revealed decades of priest sexual abuse inside the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese.

Most lawmakers agree that victims’ rights should be expanded, but they don’t believe victims should be allowed to sue the church and collect monetary damages for something that happened decades ago.

Rep.Rozzi released the follow statement today after it became clear that further action wouldn’t be taken by the General Assembly on a statute of limitations reform bill before the end of the legislative session:

“The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese grand jury report released in March that detailed the wholesale abuse of innocent children by depraved predators, finally unleashed the public outrage that had been missing for over a decade. The powers-that-be covered up the unspeakable crimes, leaving children and their families with no path to justice.

“From the beginning, House Bill 1947, the original bill that passed the House overwhelmingly in April, was already a concession to limit the liability of the Catholic Church and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. These deep-pocketed special interest groups have, for years, spent millions influencing legislators to ignore the plight of countless victims of childhood sexual abuse, not just victims of Catholic clergy.

“In the meantime, victims have only their stories. And we, as victims, tried our level best to tell them. 

“I want to say that I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this legislative cycle. I don’t think any other issue has been vetted more through press conferences, panel discussions, editorial endorsements and media coverage. And it was touted by many as an issue that should be tackled by the General Assembly before the end of the session.

“I want to give House Majority Leader Dave Reed credit for recognizing that the Senate version of the bill was deeply flawed. Among other things it included a dangerous preamble that restricted civil tort actions way beyond child sex abuse. Not only was it bad public policy; that version would have been unconstitutional.

“Following state Attorney General Bruce Beemer’s affirmation that the retroactive component was indeed constitutional, together our legal staff crafted language that the House would remain united on, including my retroactive provision and one that addressed human trafficking. Still, this was unacceptable to state Senate leadership.

“Reed asked me to reconsider what we could do to get a bill to Governor Tom Wolf’s desk. Once again, I met with colleagues, victims and advocates to present my final compromise. I would agree to substitute a one-year window for the retroactive-look-back to age 50. 

“Like he did with my fellow survivors, state Senator Joe Scarnati refused to meet with me personally. How can this one person get away with single-handedly blocking legislation, without hearing both sides and by ignoring the facts? I call this an abuse of power.

“House Bill 1947 was abandoned, like victims have been for years.

“I want to thank Majority Leader Reed for agreeing to make statute of limitations reform for victims of childhood sexual abuse a priority in the upcoming year. We will be working together to come up with an agreed-upon bill that cannot be perverted or that benefits one group of victims over another. 

“Senate leaders will not be able to let the clock run out again, like the bishops did with the statute of limitations for all those traumatized children and their families.

“With six more Roman Catholic dioceses under investigation in Pennsylvania, you can be sure this problem is not going away. And neither are we.”

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