A Pennsylvania bill that would change the law to allow victims of child sexual abuse to sue abusers and other responsible parties is closer than ever to becoming law now that it has gained the support of prominent Republican state senators.
In Pennsylvania, victims of childhood sexual assault lose the right to sue upon reaching adulthood, a devastating miscarriage of justice in light of a recent reckoning of abuse by priests in the state’s Catholic diocese.
According to the Associated Press, if the bill is made law, survivors would have two years to sue over their alleged abuse regardless of when it occurred, and the case would go straight to the state Supreme Court.
The vote, 11-3, in the Senate Judiciary Committee comes after years of damning investigations into child sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses and signals that the legislation may have enough Republican support to pass the full state Senate.
Similar legislation passed the House earlier this month and Democrats — including Gov. Tom Wolf, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and practically all of the party’s members of the Legislature — have backed the effort.
“Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court,” Shapiro said in a statement.
“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,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), himself a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a priest and staunch advocate for reform on the state’s statute of limitations, told AP he was thrilled with the progress of the bill. “I feel really, really good right now, I feel like we’re in a really good spot. I think we have the votes in the Senate too.”
“I know that this is something that, for a lot of people, is a literal lifeline,” Brooke Rush, an alleged molestation victim of Johnstown pediatrician Johnnie Barto, told AP. If the bill passes, Rush would finally be able to join a civil lawsuit against Barto’s former pediatric practice. “It just never ceases to strike me to the core how much pain so many people are living through. They finally have the ability to not be silent anymore.”
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