Katie Meyer / WITF
Proposal giving more time to sue over childhood sexual abuse to get second chance in Harrisburg
"While it may not happen very often that this is used, I think the circumstances of the...epic, historical mistake, warrant an epic, historical action on the part of the legislature to correct it."
(Harrisburg) –– A renewed effort to give survivors of childhood sexual abuse another two years to sue their abusers is gaining traction in the state legislature.
Voters originally would have weighed in on the proposal in the May primary, since lawmakers were set to approve it as a constitutional amendment for the second time, as the commonwealth’s founding document requires.
But former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar failed to publicly advertise it. That effectively restarted the years-long constitutional amendment process. Boockvar resigned over the matter in early February.
“I was devastated on behalf of the victims of abuse in my district and across the commonwealth who have shared their heart-wrenching stories and entrusted us to make these necessary, long overdue changes,” said state Sen. Maria Collett (D-Bucks County) during a press conference Friday.
Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair County), one of the prime sponsors in the House, is equally frustrated. He said there is still an option on the table to circumvent that mistake and get the idea of a two-year legal window before Pennsylvania voters in May: approving it as an emergency constitutional amendment.
“While it may not happen very often that this is used, I think the circumstances of the…epic, historical mistake, warrant an epic, historical action on the part of the legislature to correct it,” Gregory said.
If two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers approve that proposal by mid-April, it would have enough time to be properly advertised in newspapers and could appear on the May ballot after all. The House GOP indicated it would move forward with the idea during the chamber’s session on Monday.
Senate Democrats like Collett said they’d prefer to see the proposal pass as a regular bill. They believe the rationale behind the emergency amendment would crumble if challenged in court.
Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks County), who’s backing a move to put forward a bill in the state Senate, said several other states have been able to open a new legal window for survivors of abuse that way.
“This has already been held up..in New York and New Jersey, and so those states are already allowing victims to come forward and seek their civil pathway to justice.”
But both Gregory and Republican House leadership have said the statutory path wouldn’t hold up in court either. Gregory said it’s a non-starter for him.
“The writing’s on the wall: this is the only way to get this done, and if you don’t want to get on board you’re going to be left at the station,” he said. “This is what we all need to come together on for the sake of abuse victims, who for decades have been waiting for this to happen.”
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said in the interest of survivors, his party will sign off on the amendment if it receives House approval next week. He expects the legislature may be able to finish most of the work on it by week’s end.
“Let’s get done what needs to get done, and if necessary let’s run parallel paths [on] this two-year statutory [limit], and if there are legal challenges we’ll address those going forward.”