Sen­ate should join House in open­ing win­dow for vic­tims

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION -

Here’s some words you don’t hear ev­ery day, at least not in Harrisburg. “This isn’t a hard vote.” That was the voice of state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, one of the state’s most vo­cif­er­ous voices on the con­tentious is­sue of jus­tice for the vic­tims of child­hood sex­ual abuse.

That was Mon­day, be­fore the House’s his­toric vote to open a win­dow for past vic­tims of child­hood sex­ual abuse to file civil ac­tions ac­tions against their at­tack­ers.

Rozzi, him­self a vic­tim of sex­ual abuse at the hands of a Catholic pri­est as a child, laid down the gaunt­let in words sel­dom seen or heard in the state Capi­tol.

“Ask your­self one ques­tion: Do you stand with the vic­tims, or do you stand with pe­dophiles or in­sti­tu­tions that pro­tect these pe­dophiles?”

The House soon made clear where it stood. Leg­is­la­tors voted 171-23 in fa­vor of the amend­ment to lift for two years the re­quire­ment that vic­tims file suit by age 30.

The vote comes in the wake of the damn­ing state grand jury re­port that laid bare the lat­est hor­rific de­tails in­volv­ing abuse of chil­dren by Catholic priests. The grand jury iden­ti­fied 300 priests in six Penn­syl­va­nia dio­ce­ses that abuse more than 1,000 chil­dren for as many as six decades.

One of the rec­om­men­da­tions made by the grand jury was al­low­ing past vic­tims the op­por­tu­nity to seek civil re­dress.

Leg­is­la­tion al­ready was crafted to elim­i­nate the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for crim­i­nal charges and ex­pand­ing the win­dow for civil suits – but only for fu­ture cases.

Rozzi’s amend­ment of­fers jus­tice for hun­dreds of past vic­tims who saw the win­dow close on their at­tempts to seek jus­tice when they turned age 30.

Many ex­perts in sex­ual abuse in­di­cate vic­tims of­ten don’t come to grips with their abuse un­til much later in adult­hood.

“This is a great day for Penn­syl­va­nia, a good start,” Rozzi said. “Go home and be proud and let peo­ple know you stood with vic­tims.”

It ac­tu­ally was a good week for House mem­bers.

Later they voted 131-62 to pass HB 2060, a mea­sure that would get guns out of the hands of do­mes­tic abusers.

The bill would man­date that those con­victed of abuse or with a fi­nal Pro­tec­tion From Abuse or­der against them sur­ren­der their guns within 24 hours, not the 60 days cur­rently al­lowed. It is sim­i­lar to a bill passed unan­i­mously by the state Sen­ate last spring spon­sored by Sen. Tom Kil­lion, D-9 of Mid­dle­town.

Now both mea­sures go the state Sen­ate. And that’s the prob­lem. Repub­li­can lead­ers in the Sen­ate have been con­sis­tent in op­pos­ing open­ing a win­dow for the vic­tims of past sex abuse.

They fear the mea­sure will not pass con­sti­tu­tional muster. In­stead, they have in­di­cated sup­port for a vic­tims’ com­pen­sa­tion fund set up by the church and run by a third party.

Af­ter the House vote, Sen­ate Repub­li­can Ma­jor­ity Leader Jake Cor­man, R-Cen­tre, said his col­leagues likely would make some changes to the mea­sure.

And of the two-year win­dow: “We haven’t de­cided yes or no on that.”

The Sen­ate last spring passed a sim­i­lar bill to ex­pand the win­dow for civil ac­tions as well as elim­i­nat­ing the crim­i­nal statute of lim­i­ta­tions to file child sex abuse charges, but only for fu­ture of­fenses.

The mea­sure did not in­clude any lan­guage to de­liver jus­tice to past vic­tims of abuse.

At least one mem­ber of the Sen­ate said the hor­rific de­tails in­cluded in the most re­cent grand jury re­port changed his mind on the retroac­tive pro­vi­sion, as well as the other rec­om­men­da­tions made by the panel.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17 of Mont­gomery and Delaware coun­ties, said that he had got­ten caught up in the legalese of the mea­sures, over­look­ing the hu­man suf­fer­ing that took place.

“I got sort of caught up in my own head, on hy­per-tech­ni­cal read­ings of the law … all of which served to blind me to what got me into pol­i­tics in the first place, which is the de­sire to help peo­ple who have been wronged get jus­tice,” Leach said.

“I changed my mind,” Leach told a crowd that had gath­ered for a vigil to rally sup­port for the mea­sure.

We hope he’s not the only mem­ber of the Sen­ate to come to that re­al­iza­tion.

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