HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Friday, the Pennsylvania House concluded its special session after passing a dual path for victims of childhood sexual assault. Both bills passed would open a two-year civil window for victims to sue abusers and institutions that covered the abuse.
The window is the only remaining recommendation from the 2018 Grand Jury Report after its two-year investigation into widespread sexual abuse of children within six dioceses of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.
The dual path consists of two approaches: a constitutional amendment and a statutory bill. Both received bipartisan support on their third and final consideration this morning.
“To all the victims and survivors out there, we have your backs,” said House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), sponsor of House Bill 2, the statutory bill.
Rozzi is a survivor of clergy abuse when he was 13 years old. He shared his story and experience on the House floor before his bill received a vote, and said justice is far overdue.
Now all eyes shift to the Republican-controlled Senate as they determine whether to consider HB 1 and HB 2 when they return on Monday.
“Do they have the courage on that side of the building like the victims and survivors do,” Rozzi asked.
In January, the Senate added the two-year window constitutional amendment to Senate Bill 1, which included constitutional amendments related to voter I.D. and overturning regulations. It has not been considered by the House.
“I thought it was positively disgusting that victims and the children of the Commonwealth were bundled into highly political amendments. We had a promise, we had a majority in both houses, this was supposed to go forward in the May election and the fact that then they slow it down with politics, it’s just wrong. It’s just morally wrong,” said Marci Hamilton, Founder and CEO of Child USA.
Hamilton has been fighting for the window since 2005 and says the Senate should focus on passing the window not just for victims, but for parents as well.
“The fact we haven’t opened these statute of limitations means these children have been at risk of hidden predators. Parents need the truth. It needs to be passed immediately,” said Hamilton. “Every day the Senate takes to pass this law is a day that children are at risk,” Hamilton added.
Some Republicans in the House and Senate call the statutory bill unconstitutional and say the constitutional amendment is the best path forward. Rozzi says that should be the court’s decision.
“If you think it’s unconstitutional, then I dare you to pass it and let the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rule on it, on whether it’s constitutional,” said Rozzi. “Because there’s not one black robe that sits in the Senate and there’s not one black robe that sits in the House of Representatives. That is the Supreme Court’s ultimate job to decide whether it’s constitutional or not,” Rozzi added.
Today was the fourth time the House passed a constitutional amendment for the two-year window. It previously passed the General Assembly, but was not advertised correctly by the Wolf Administration in order to be placed on the ballot, and the process had to re-start from the beginning.
Survivors, including Rozzi, hope the Senate will push the window across the finish line one last time.
“We’re going to do everything we can, along with the governor, to try to get them just to simply do their job and support victims,” said Rozzi.
In a statement from the Governor’s office, Press Secretary Manuel Bonder told ErieNewsNow:
“Survivors have waited decades for this important step toward accountability, and the House delivered today for these Pennsylvanians. This is a critical step towards helping survivors receive the day in court they deserve — and Governor Shapiro will continue working with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in the fight for justice and accountability. The Senate has taken action to support survivors and advance justice in Pennsylvania before — and it is the Governor’s hope that they will do so again now.”
Rozzi says delaying justice is denying justice, adding that the choice is simple.
“On this issue, it’s very simple. You either support victims or you support pedophiles, or you support protecting institutions. Which one is it,” said Rozzi.