Inaction on Child Sexual Abuse Disappointing
After investigating and hearing testimony for more than two years, a grand jury issued a report in August outlining the horrific sexual abuse that occurred in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic Church. According to the report, more than 300 priests abused 1,000 children during the last 70 years.
This devastating report once again led to calls for Pennsylvania to reform its outdated child sexual abuse laws. Following the release of the grand jury report, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in late September overwhelmingly passed and sent to the Senate a bill to modernize abuse laws.
This bill had the strong support of victims and their advocates from across Pennsylvania. Sadly, last week the Senate finished its legislative session for the year without voting on the legislation.
This development on a much-needed piece of legislation is deeply disappointing.
The legislation in question, Senate Bill 261, substantially changes age restrictions in future child sexual abuse cases. Under the bill, criminal prosecutions of perpetrators would be able to occur at any time, and civil lawsuits could be filed against abusers and institutions until the victim turns 50.
Currently in Pennsylvania, criminal charges cannot be filed against a perpetrator if a victim is now older than 50, and civil lawsuits cannot be filed by the victim past age 30.
It is important to note that these reforms would be effective for cases that occur after the bill becomes law, and they would not apply to past incidents of abuse.
One part of Senate Bill 261 that would be applicable to past abuse cases is the section of the bill that creates a two-year window for former victims to sue perpetrators and institutions. The ability for adults to retroactively seek civil damages for sexual abuse that occurred when they were children decades ago is currently prohibited in Pennsylvania.
It was this provision of Senate Bill 261 that caused controversy, as some in the Senate questioned the legality of retroactively changing state law to permit these lawsuits.
My position on this topic has been clear. When I was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives two years ago, I voted in favor of allowing retroactive civil lawsuits in order for adults to seek damages for the sexual abuse they suffered as children. As was the case when I voted for this legislation in April of 2016, I believe these lawsuits are essential for victims to achieve the justice they deserve from abusers and the institutions that fostered this abuse.
It is heartbreaking to know that so many children were sexually abused in Pennsylvania, and it is inexcusable that our state does not allow past victims who are now adults to seek justice in the courtroom from abusers and institutions. By not taking action on Senate Bill 261, Pennsylvania is denying justice to generations of victims who have suffered immensely.
Rest assured I will continue to be an advocate for this key reform of our child sexual abuse laws.
Bills Sent to the Governor
As the current two-year session approached its final days this month for House and Senate members to vote on legislation, 90 bills were sent to Governor Tom Wolf for his signature.
Here are a few highlights of legislation I supported that was recently passed by the General Assembly:
Alternative Graduation Testing – This legislation provides a menu of options for the state’s controversial and onerous Keystone Exams. More information can be found HERE.
Anti-Hazing – This bill, inspired by the tragic fraternity hazing death of Penn State University student Timothy Piazza, increases penalties for hazing and provides new accountability for organizations. You can find additional information HERE.
DUI Penalties – This legislation creates Pennsylvania’s first-ever felony charge for driving under the influence and increases mandatory incarceration requirements for repeat offenders. More information is HERE.
Animals Left in Hot Cars – This bill allows public safety officials to remove pets who are endangered by being left unattended in a hot vehicle without fear of liability. You will find more information HERE.
Grandparents Raising Children Because of Drug Addiction – This legislation helps grandparents raise grandchildren whose parents can no longer do so because of drug addiction problems, and it does this by allowing for emergency guardianship and by creating a new resource center for grandparents. Additional information is HERE and HERE.
Freight Company Tax Fairness – This legislation provides for fair tax treatment of freight companies in Pennsylvania to encourage these companies to stay and expand in the state. More information is HERE.
Suicide Prevention for College Students – This bill allows colleges, universities and trade schools to create critical suicide prevention programs to help their students during challenging times. Information on this bill is HERE.
School Bus Safety – This bill allows for the installation of cameras on school bus stop arms to help detect and deter traffic violations while buses are stopped. More information is HERE.
Helping Child Victims of Human Trafficking – This bill prevents children who are the victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking from being prosecuted for crimes they are forced to commit. Additional information is HERE.
Organ Transplant Waiting List Reforms – This legislation provides several updates to Pennsylvania’s organ transplant law to help organ donors and recipients. More information is HERE.
Prescription Drugs for Seniors – This bill expands the income eligibility limits for Pennsylvania’s successful PACENET program. More information can be found HERE.
Halloween Safety Tips
I was honored to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony for a massive investment of $156 million from Kimberly Clark in their Chester facility. This funding is a testament to the hard work and dedication of their employees as well as a vote of confidence in our community.
It was wonderful to meet last week with individuals advocating for more opportunities for disabled Pennsylvanians.
I attended the Delaware County Advocacy & Resource annual breakfast to see how local legislators can help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Assistance for Veterans Available
I would like to encourage veterans and their families who have questions about benefits and programs to schedule an appointment for these assistance hours. Appointments can be made by contacting the office at (610) 447 – 3163. This service will be offered the fourth Wednesday of each month.
Always Here to Help
My offices provide many services to families in our area. Here are some of the ways we can help.
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