2-year win­dow for child sex abuse suits di­vides ne­go­tia­tors

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

HAR­RIS­BURG >> A Penn­syl­va­nia House Demo­crat ne­go­ti­at­ing leg­is­la­tion to help vic­tims of child sex­ual abuse on Fri­day re­jected an ap­proach re­cently cir­cu­lated by the top-rank­ing Se­nate Repub­li­can.

Rep. Mark Rozzi said he had sev­eral prob­lems with a doc­u­ment he re­ceived Thurs­day from the of­fice of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Joe Scar­nati.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, ne­go­ti­a­tions are over. My three words for the Se­nate are sim­ply this: pre­pare for war,” Rozzi said in his Capi­tol of­fice. “We’re com­ing.”

The House last month voted for a two-year win­dow for abuse vic­tims to file civil law­suits over claims that would oth­er­wise be barred by time lim­its in state law.

Scar­nati has ar­gued that a two-year retroac­tive win­dow would vi­o­late the state con­sti­tu­tion. His out­line does not in­clude such a win­dow, and the Se­nate could vote on mat­ter next week, as the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion nears its end.

A state in­ves­tiga­tive grand jury re­port is­sued in Au­gust, draw­ing from se­cret church files, found hun­dreds of Ro­man Catholic pri­ests abused chil­dren over seven decades. It rec­om­mended a win­dow be es­tab­lished be­cause un­der cur­rent law, vic­tims of child sex­ual abuse have un­til age 30 to sue.

Scar­nati’s top aide, Drew Cromp­ton, said the doc­u­ment was a way to share in­for­ma­tion “with a small group of in­ter­ested par­ties in or­der to con­tinue good faith con­ver­sa­tions on be­half of Sen. Scar­nati.”

The doc­u­ment was first re­ported by The Philadel­phia Inquirer and Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette.

Cromp­ton said Scar­nati’s pro­posal of a com­pen­sa­tion fund was ev­i­dence the Se­nate leader has “moved off his po­si­tion.” The out­line he sent out Thurs­day talks of giv­ing vic­tims one year to file a claim with a “tri­bunal, man­aged by judges” that would over­see it. The doc­u­ment does not say where the money would come from, how much money would be avail­able or who would be el­i­gi­ble.

The Scar­nati doc­u­ment also backs re­mov­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for crim­i­nal prose­cu­tions go­ing for­ward, which is widely sup­ported, and makes other changes rec­om­mended by the grand jury.

It would im­pose more strict re­port­ing re­quire­ments for sus­pected abuse and state that nondis­clo­sure agree­ments could not stop the vic­tim who signed it from re­port­ing their abuse to po­lice. A registry would be es­tab­lished to list per­pe­tra­tors.

Rozzi, who spo­ken pub­licly about his own abuse at the hands of Catholic priest, has be­come a House leader on the sub­ject. He said he had been in talks with Scar­nati over the bill, and on Tues­day Scar­nati told him he would send him lan­guage.

Rozzi said he sup­ports the idea of a com­pen­sa­tion fund along with a two-year win­dow, but not with­out it.

He said the fund could end up as a way for the church and oth­ers to “buy off these claims su­per cheap.” Some vic­tims, he said, want the kind of dis­clo­sure that a law­suit could pro­vide, while oth­ers pre­fer the process of com­pen­sa­tion through a fund.

Sam Mar­shall, pres­i­dent of the In­sur­ance Fed­er­a­tion of Penn­syl­va­nia, an in­dus­try group, re­sponded fa­vor­ably to the Scar­nati doc­u­ment.

“This seems to be a com­pre­hen­sive and con­sti­tu­tional ap­proach to erad­i­cat­ing the hor­rors of child abuse doc­u­mented in the grand jury re­port,” Mar­shall said.

The state’s Catholic dio­ce­ses have en­dorsed the idea of a fund.

At a news con­fer­ence Fri­day morn­ing in Norristown to push law­mak­ers to act in the com­ing days, Demo­cratic At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro in­sisted that the two-year win­dow should be part of the deal.

“I don’t know how any re­spon­si­ble law­maker who ac­tu­ally took the time to read this grand jury re­port could vote against these sur­vivors, could vote against sup­port­ing these grand jury re­forms,” Shapiro said.

He said the grand jury re­port had shocked peo­ple in the state, and warned state sen­a­tors not to ig­nore the grand jury’s rec­om­mended changes.

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