Pa. Leg­is­la­ture won’t take up House Bill 1947

Leg­is­la­ture won’t take up bill to give them their day in court

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kath­leen E. Carey kcarey@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @dt­busi­ness on Twit­ter

The fight to ex­pand the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for sex­ual abuse vic­tims in Har­ris­burg is over for this ses­sion.

The fight to ex­pand the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for child­hood sex­ual abuse vic­tims in Har­ris­burg is over for this ses­sion. HB 1947 failed to be put out for a fi­nal vote and its main sup­porter called it a vic­tim of an abuse of power and vowed to re­sus­ci­tate the is­sue in the next ses­sion in the new year.

HB 1947 sur­faced in the spring as the state House passed the mea­sure 180 to 15 in April, on the heels of a state At­tor­ney Gen­eral grand jury re­port into hun­dreds of stu­dents abused in the Dio­cese of Altoona-John­stown by at least 50 Catholic pri­ests dat­ing back 40 years. But when the bill moved to the Se­nate, it faced a con­certed cam­paign from the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia and the in­sur­ance in­dus­try to block con­tro­ver­sial lan­guage that would al­low vic­tims from decades ago to come for­ward now and file civil suits against their al­leged abusers.

The arch­dio­cese urged parish­ioners to con­tact their leg­is­la­tors to op­pose the bill. Some lo-

cal House mem­bers who had sup­ported the mea­sure said they took heat from the arch­dio­cese, with one ac­tu­ally hav­ing his name ca­su­ally men­tioned in the Sun­day bul­letin at his parish.

In June, the state Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee held a hear­ing on House Bill 1947, which pro­po­nents said was bi­ased due to the con­nec­tion of the com­mit­tee chair­man, state Sen. Ste­wart Greenleaf, R-12, of Willow Grove, and his firm rep­re­sent­ing Catholic en­ti­ties in abuse cases in Delaware. The firm fought sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion there, as well as then-So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Bruce Cas­tor’s tes­ti­mony in light of the guar­an­tee he made to Bill Cosby about avoid­ing pros­e­cu­tion on rape charges years ago.

The Se­nate re­moved a pro­vi­sion that would have al­lowed adult sur­vivors to seek civil re­course from those that harmed them and added other mea­sures such as elim­i­nat­ing the crim­i­nal statute of lim­i­ta­tions for con­spir­acy. It also al­lowed civil suits to be filed decades from now against in­di­vid­u­als who abused a child or a pri­vate or pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion in­volved in con­spir­ing with these at­tack­ers. In the Se­nate ver­sion, the stan­dard of proof was also low­ered to neg­li­gence in these cases, in­stead of gross neg­li­gence.

Af­ter pass­ing in the Se­nate - with­out the con­tro­ver­sial retroac­tive lan­guage - it was re­turned to the House. It failed to make it to the floor for a vote this week.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, who crafted the House amend­ment al­low­ing vic­tims up to 50 years old to pur­sue cases from abuse that oc­curred decades ago and him­self a vic­tim of abuse by a priest, said he was will­ing to com­pro­mise but pointed to se­nate lead­er­ship as prob­lem­atic, and he be­lieves it’s con­nected to the cam­paign do­na­tions they re­ceive from op­po­nents of the bill.

“Peo­ple should know the dif­fer­ence be­tween right and wrong,” Rozzi said. “They’re abus­ing their power.”

He said state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Joe Scar­nati, R-25, of Brock­way, re­fused to meet with him — or any sur­vivor — and said Scar­nati’s ver­sion of the bill, which was sent to the House, ap­peared to be writ­ten by the Catholic Con­fer­ence and the In­sur­ance Fed­er­a­tion, whom Rozzi said are ma­jor cam­paign con­trib­u­tors.

State records showed Scar­nati re­ceived a $12,000 do­na­tion from the Penn­syl­va­nia In­sur­ance PAC in May and votes­ listed the In­sur­ance Fed­er­a­tion of Penn­syl­va­nia as one of Scar­nati’s top con­trib­u­tors, hav­ing con­trib­uted $47,000 to his cam­paign.

Rozzi also pointed to the 39 lob­by­ists ad­vo­cat­ing against this leg­is­la­tion.

“There’s no other in­sti­tu­tions run­ning around here lob­by­ing against the bill — it’s the Catholic Con­fer­ence and the In­sur­ance Fed­er­a­tion,” Rozzi said.

The Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence has main­tained its po­si­tion that the church ac­knowl­edges its past and is com­mit­ted to of­fer­ing as­sis­tance to vic­tims.

“We will pro­vide con­tin­u­ous re­sources for sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies so they can have ac­cess coun­sel­ing, ad­dic­tion treat­ment, med­i­ca­tions and other nec­es­sary sup­port ser­vices,” a state­ment on their web­site read. “Sur­vivors do not need retroac­tive law­suits to get sup­port from the Catholic Church.”

It also pointed to safe en­vi­ron­ment prac­tices such as train­ing for em­ploy­ees, clergy and vol­un­teers in iden­ti­fy­ing and re­spond­ing to abuse, as well as re­port­ing mat­ters to lo­cal district at­tor­neys.

Kate Eck­hart, Scar­nati’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, said com­ment on this mat­ter would be lim­ited to a state­ment, then added, “There needs to be a level of re­spect among col­leagues and un­for­tu­nately that has not been shown by Rep. Rozzi.”

Scar­nati’s state­ment reads: “House Bill 1947 in its cur­rent form makes valu­able im­prove­ments for both the crim­i­nal and civil ac­tions for vic­tims of child abuse. On this is­sue the House and Se­nate have more in com­mon than dis­agree­ment. The lan­guage in which there is agree­ment is con­tained in HB 1947 and should be sent to the gover­nor. HB 1947, which I strongly sup­port, is con­sti­tu­tion­ally sound and fur­ther strengths cur­rent law. Of­ten as a leg­is­la­tor I ask my­self one sim­ple ques­tion: Does the bill make cur­rent law bet­ter for the cit­i­zens of Penn­syl­va­nia? The clear an­swer when an­a­lyz­ing HB 1947 in its cur­rent form is ‘yes.’”

Rozzi dis­agreed, say­ing the Se­nate ver­sion was “deeply flawed,” con­tain­ing a “dan­ger­ous pream­ble that re­stricted civil tort ac­tions way beyond child sex abuse.”

He said he met with House Ma­jor­ity Dave Reed, R-62, of In­di­ana, Pa., to dis­cuss what to do with the bill.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive said Se­nate lead­er­ship in­di­cated they would not pass any­thing other than what they sent to the House.

He said he was will­ing to drop the retroac­tive com­po­nent up to 50 years old in fa­vor of a one-year win­dow, al­low­ing vic­tims of any age to seek crim­i­nal and civil re­course.

Rozzi said he con­tin­ued to try to talk to other House mem­bers about the leg­is­la­tion but was shut out.

“It be­came quite ap­par­ent to me they were con­tent to stand there and pro­tect pe­dophiles and the in­sti­tu­tions that pro­tect them,” Rozzi said. “House Bill 1947 was aban­doned, like vic­tims have been for years.”

He did want to highlight the move­ment made on this is­sue.

“I am proud of what we were able to ac­com­plish this ses­sion,” he said, adding that it was the first time since 2006 to get such leg­is­la­tion out of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, it was the first time there was a fa­vor­able vote in the House on retroac­tiv­ity and it was the first time a se­nate hear­ing was held on this mat­ter.

He thanked Reed for rec­og­niz­ing flaws in the se­nate ver­sion, and spoke of what can be ex­pected in the fu­ture.

“I want to thank Ma­jor­ity Leader Dave Reed for agree­ing to make statute of lim­i­ta­tion re­form for vic­tims of child­hood sex­ual abuse pri­or­ity in the new year,” Rozzi said, adding that he wants to in­sert a win­dow to al­low vic­tims of any age an op­por­tu­nity to seek re­course. “We will be work­ing to­gether to come up with an agreedupon bill that can­not be per­verted or that ben­e­fits one group of vic­tims over an­other.”

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive reaf­firmed his com­mit­ment to child­hood sex­ual abuse vic­tims.

“I’m not quit­ting,” Rozzi said. “I’m fight­ing for you still. Even­tu­ally we will win the war ... With six more Ro­man Catholic dio­ce­ses un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, you can be sure this prob­lem is not go­ing away and nei­ther are we.”

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