Harrisburg, June 30, 2016 − Legislation designed to create new and effective legal avenues for child sex-abuse victims to pursue criminal and civil actions against their abusers cleared the Senate today, state Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria/Bedford/Clearfield) said.
The measure House Bill 1947 was approved by the Senate with a 49-0 vote. The bill now goes back to the state House for consideration. Wozniak, who supported the proposal, urged other senators to back the legislation.
The legislation will help victims bring legal actions against child sex abusers, Wozniak said. It does not go as far as earlier proposals or as far as I would have liked, but it is the best that can be produced for now. We have come a long way.
Under the bill, there would be no statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions or civil actions against individual abusers. The measure would increase the amount of time a victim can bring a civil action against an institution from 30 to 50 years of age.
We have to do all we can to ensure that victims have options to pursue justice, Wozniak said.
The legislation was spurred by the findings of a state grand jury that examined allegations of child abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic diocese. The grand jury found that at least 50 priests and others affiliated with the church were engaged in the abuse of hundreds of children over a period of nearly 50 years. The grand jury also found that the abuse was concealed by church and law enforcement officials.
However, the abuses found by the grand jury exceeded the statute of limitations and could not be legally pursued.
There is no tolerance for abuse, Wozniak said in the floor speech today.
Wozniak said that the legislation includes sweeping changes and reforms that will alter the legal landscape and provide new ways for victims to pursue justice. He also said the consideration of the legislation illuminated the issue and will help prevent future abuses.
The measure returns to the state House of Representatives for its approval.