Statute of lim­i­ta­tions di­vides ne­go­tia­tors

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Scol­foro

HAR­RIS­BURG, PA. >> The Penn­syl­va­nia state law­maker lead­ing a push to give vic­tims of child sex­ual abuse a way around time lim­its that pre­vent them from su­ing on Fri­day an­grily re­jected an al­ter­na­tive 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, the big­gest be­ing that it did in­clude a twoyear win­dow to al­low law­suits oth­er­wise barred by time lim­its in state law.

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

ing.”

A cou­ple hours later his tone had cooled, say­ing at a news con­fer­ence there was a chance an agree­ment could be struck over the week­end.

The House last month voted for a two-year win­dow, but Scar­nati has ar­gued retroac­tive law­suits would vi­o­late the state con­sti­tu­tion. 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, de­scribed the doc­u­ment as 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 a vic­tims’ com­pen­sa­tion fund. 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 backs a widely sup­ported pro­posal to elim­i­nate the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions go­ing for­ward, and makes other changes rec­om­mended by the grand jury.

It would im­pose more strict re­quire­ments for re­port­ing sus­pected abuse and make clear that nondis­clo­sure

agree­ments may not stop the vic­tims who signed them 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 twoyear win­dow for law­suits — but not a fund with­out the win­dow.

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 leg­is­la­tion.

“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.

AP writer Clau­dia Lauer con­trib­uted from Norristown.

This story has been cor­rected to say that Rozzi said “pre­pare for war,” not “this is war.”

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