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Sex abuse reform reintroduced

HARRISBURG — One of the most controversial legislative reforms of the 2015-16 session was reintroduced Monday, and with it, a standoff over its contents will likely be rekindled.

The measure, Senate Bill 261, would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases and remove the civil statute on certain cases against individual defendants, essentially giving most future survivors a lifetime to sue their abuser or seek prosecution.

“This bill musters constitutionality. This bill does a lot of good for victims going forward, and it also helps level that playing field between public and nonpublic institutions in the sex abuse arena” said Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, of the bill, which unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon.

Under the new legislation, victims would also be granted more time to sue individuals who conspired with their abuser to commit the sexual abuse or an individual who had knowledge of the abuse but didn’t report it, according to the bill.

Victims would have until age 50 instead of age 30, the standard under current law, to sue those defendants.

It would also waive governmental immunity for claims against government agencies, according to the bill, essentially holding public entities culpable of child sexual abuse to the same standard as private institutions.

However, the changes will not allow victims whose statute of limitations have already run out from seeking civil action against their abuser, a component of the reform that many House lawmakers and child advocates have adamantly supported.