Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign three bills addressing child sexual abuse passed by the Legislature. A fourth bill will require a constitutional amendment and another vote by lawmakers next year.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Temple, sponsored House Bill 962, which eliminates the statute of limitations for prosecuting childhood sexual abuse.
House Bill 1051, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-North Wales, clarifies who is required to report suspected child abuse and what the penalties are for not reporting.
Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Hazleton, said she sponsored House Bill 1171 in honor of a woman who was molested by her priest and forced to have an abortion but felt she could not report the abuse because she signed a nondisclosure agreement. Victims will not be prohibited from talking to law enforcement because they signed a nondisclosure agreement.
“My legislation makes it very clear that sexual abuse survivors in Pennsylvania will now be able to provide information to criminal investigators regarding the heinous crimes allegedly committed against them, even if they signed a confidentiality agreement years earlier,” Toohil said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati called the passage of the bills “historic.”
“By eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, we are addressing the severity of this crime and elevating child sexual abuse to the same prosecution level as murder,” Scarnati, R-Brockway, said in a statement.
Legislators also passed a bill that will create a two-year window for childhood sexual abuse survivors who wish to pursue civil litigation against their abusers. House Bill 963, sponsored by Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, will require a constitutional amendment. The bill must be passed by lawmakers again next session, without any amendments, before it is put on a statewide ballot.
“Victims often feel helpless to speak up against their perpetrator,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler. “We as a Commonwealth should never add to that feeling.”
The bills were recommended in August 2018 by a grand jury investigating sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Church. Attorney General Josh Shapiro praised the bills’ passage.
“The voices of survivors were heard,” Shapiro said in a statement. “I stand proudly alongside these brave souls, who have waited 15 long months since the release of the Grand Jury’s report on clergy abuse to see the jurors’ four recommended reforms be brought to the Pennsylvania Senate floor for a vote.”