Key Pennsylvania senators favor bill opening litigation window for child sex abuse survivors


The state’s highest ranking Republican senator said Wednesday he supports a bill that opens a two-year litigation window for survivors of child sex abuse, signaling a yearslong shift in opinion that could secure the proposal’s passage.

“I’ve gotten to the point where enough is enough,” said President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. “These poor individuals have suffered the most heinous crime you can imagine.”

The committee approved House Bill 951 on a vote of 11-3. The measure allows survivors to sue their abusers and the institutions that employed them for crimes committed against them as children. The policy came out of a 2018 grand jury report into rampant sexual abuse in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.

But the proposal makes clear that public entities cannot hide behind sovereign or governmental immunity, either.

Republicans long opposed the bill over fears it would trigger legal action for violating constitutional rights. But after the Department of State botched a proposed constitutional amendment that would have opened the same window, Corman said he’s willing to take that chance.

“If there's enough vagueness at least to be argued, I'm prepared to let all the lawyers have their day, the judges to have their day, and most importantly victims of these terrible crimes to have their day,” he said.

The General Assembly restarted the clock on the two-year constitutional amendment process last month. In the meantime, House lawmakers moved a corresponding bill as part of a “dual path” that could deliver justice as soon the governor signs it.

Both Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro said they support the dual path approach.

“Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court,” Shapiro said Wednesday. “Now it’s time to deliver justice and closure for those who spoke up, relived their trauma, and bolstered the system for future victims.”

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Dallas, said she, too, preferred the constitutional amendment path until the “a colossal bureaucratic failure” derailed the state’s plan to finally punt the question to voters in the May 18 primary election.

“But, if you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result,” she said.

The proposal moves to the full Senate for consideration. The chamber reconvenes for session on April 27, though it's unclear how quickly the bill will receive a vote.

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