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Abuse amendment gets second go

HARRISBURG — A Senate committee moved quickly Monday to start the second round needed to pass a state constitutional amendment to open a two-year retroactive window for lawsuits by child abuse survivors.

The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 8, which addresses fallout from a 2018 statewide grand jury report that examined decades of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

The proposed amendment provides for a two-year period where victims can bring civil lawsuits against alleged abusers in older cases where the statute of limitations has expired.

In the last legislative session, House Bill 14, a version of this legislation, was championed by state Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, who has revealed he was sexually assaulted as a 10-year-old by two 13-year-old boys.

The proposal by Gregory and co-sponsor Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat, received bipartisan support. Both lawmakers noted that the proposal is something victims have been fighting for for more than 20 years.

This amendment won approval in the previous legislative session. Now, the Legislature needs to approve it in the same form again this session. Once that happens, the amendment can be placed on the ballot for statewide voter approval, possibly as early as the May primary.

“By approving this second round, we submit this crucial question to the court of voter decision,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Majority Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne.

“It’s well past time we take this step,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Minority Chairman Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks.

The panel also voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 87, which seeks to increase penalties for those convicted of child pornography in such areas as viewing images of children, allow the Pennsylvania Commission of Sentencing to create a sentencing enhancement for those convicted of sexual abuse of children and establish a task force on child pornography.

Regarding this bill, Baker said it had been the top priority of the late Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon, who died earlier this month.

She read a statement that Arnold recently wrote: “It’s time the law puts more onus on people viewing these (pornographic) images.”

Also approved was Senate Bill 81, which would allow for expert testimony in court concerning domestic violence and human trafficking cases, and Senate Bill 78, looking to emphasize the safety of a child in making decisions in a custody dispute.

The panel also approved Senate Bills 84, 85 and 86, with each focused on filling vacancies in county district attorney offices.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday (rescheduled from today) to consider six bills. Four of these bills deal with offenses and criminal penalties for various crimes.

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