- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Senate voted unanimously Thursday to lift time limits for some perpetrators of child sexual abuse to be sued by their victims and prosecuted by authorities, amid fresh Roman Catholic Church scandals in Pennsylvania that have inflamed a push for the legislation.

However, the Senate also rejected a provision approved overwhelmingly in April by the House to restore the ability of onetime-child victims to sue for damages if they are now older than the current legal age limit of 30.

That provision has been hotly debated, particularly with prosecutors in Pennsylvania uncovering a long-running scandal in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and states increasingly providing that window to victims who are now older.

But the provision ran into concerns from senators that it would conflict with Pennsylvania’s constitutional case law, and it was opposed by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, which represents for-profit insurers.

In floor comments, Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, said he was sorry that the Senate could not help survivors of past abuse.

“There may be opportunities in a future day to deal with that issue, but I don’t think that that should overshadow the significance of the fact that we have an opportunity to give justice to future victims of abuse and perhaps to prevent future victims of abuse,” Teplitz said.

The bill has been propelled by Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who has told of his own victimization as a child by a Roman Catholic priest. The bill goes back to the House, where it’s fate was uncertain Thursday.

“I know that a few of us would have liked to take it a little further, but this is the world of what we can do and not what we cannot do,” said Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria. “I think we’ve come a long way in trying to bring this to the forefront, both to the law and, probably most importantly, to the public eye.”

Still, senators went farther than the House in some respects.

The Senate bill would remove any time limit for a future victim or a victim who is not yet 30 to sue the perpetrator, a co-conspirator or someone who knew of the abuse but failed to report it to authorities. The House bill would have raised that age limit from 30 to 50.

The Senate bill also agreed with the House bill to eliminate the statute of limitations in criminal prosecutions and it would raise the age limit, from 30 to 50, for a victim to sue an organization, such as a church or a school.

On March 1, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office accused two Catholic bishops who led the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese of covering up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests and other religious leaders over a 40-year period. The grand jury report even portrayed the church as holding sway over local law enforcement.

Prosecutors filed no criminal charges, in part because the statute of limitations had expired. That prompted the grand jury to recommend that state lawmakers abolish the statute of limitations for sexual offenses against minors and urge them to suspend the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.

However, the attorney general’s office reversed course, and told senators in committee testimony June 13 that it would be unconstitutional to change state law to retroactively give victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue.

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