(The Center Square) – A bill pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly opens a two-year litigation window for survivors of child sex abuse to sue their perpetrators after a botched constitutional amendment set back the issue until 2023.
House Bill 951 passed the lower chamber Wednesday on a vote of 149-52. The measure would loosen the statute of limitations so adult victims could file civil lawsuits for crimes committed against them as children. It also waives sovereign immunity protections for public and private institutions.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Temple, said he authored the statutory standalone bill to provide a “dual path to justice” after the Department of State failed to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment that accomplished the same goal.
Constitutional amendments must pass the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions before appearing on the ballot as a voter referendum. In February, just as the Senate planned to approve the amendment for the second time, the department admitted it never advertised the proposal the first time it passed in 2019.
The clerical error forced the resignation of former Secretary Kathy Boockvar and triggered an investigation from the inspector general’s office. Lawmakers contemplated an emergency amendment to get the effort back on the ballot in May, but Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, rejected the idea as too risky and legally unsound.
It’s unclear whether Senate Republicans will support HB 951, where the bill now awaits consideration. Instead, the upper chamber restarted the constitutional amendment process last month, meaning the soonest the issue would appear on the ballot would be 2023.
Senate Democrats said last month they support legislation that would open the two-year window without requiring a constitutional amendment, believing survivors “should not have to wait any longer for justice.”
“This is a disappointing setback in the process to create the window to justice,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh. “If we continue with the constitutional amendment process, it will be at least another two years until the window would be created and that’s simply too long. A legislative solution can create the window immediately, and I’m encouraging bipartisan and bicameral support for the bill that members of our caucus is going to introduce. Survivors need justice now.”