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HARRISBURG, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pennsylvania legislators are pushing for reform in the state's sex crime laws.
In an action Tuesday the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee voted 26 to 1 to support a bill seeking to abolish the criminal statute of limitations. Spearheaded by Republican majority chairman Ron Marsico of Dauphin, House Bill 1947 would ensure "no one who sexually abuses a child ... will ever be free from criminal prosecution merely because of a lapsed statute of limitations."
"The issue of the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases is not a new one in the legislature," Marsico explains in a statement released Monday.
The proposed changes would also raise "the civil statute-of-limitations age to age 50" from its current ceiling of age 30.
However the tentative reforms will have no retroactive effect. According to Rep. Marsico this is because of the potentially "huge negative impact" such clauses would have on many nonprofit organizations who could face catastrophic lawsuits "for actions that may have occurred decades ago by people who are no longer even affiliated" with the groups.
Current law demands victims of sexual assault over the age of 18 report the crime within 12 years; those "under the age of 18 who were born before August 27, 2002 have 12 years after their 18th birthday to file criminal charges." Those under age 18 who were born after August 27, 2002 have 32 years following their 18th birthday to file any criminal charges.
The push for legislation reform comes in the wake of the uncovering of a massive homosexual child abuse scandal within the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. In a 147-page grand jury report released last month as part of an investigation into sexual abuse within the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, investigators claim two of the diocese's former bishops worked over multiple decades to shelter dozens of homosexual priests responsible for molesting hundreds of children. Actions included transferring abusive priests from parish to parish and even assigning one predatory cleric to work at an all-boys school. According to the report this was all accomplished with assistance of multiple law enforcement and government authorities.
Despite the extensive evidence compiled in the grand jury report no charges have been filed against any of the accused, due in part to several of the accused having died before the investigation began but mostly owing to the current statute of limitations.
Marsico notes the push to abolish the statute is not exclusively in response to the Altoona-Johnstown situation, but multiple incidents over the years, including massive claims of clerical abuse in Philadelphia. "[T]he committee decided that we had to go ahead and move forward with legislation," he explains.
The bill also includes provisions that would relinquish the state's immunity in cases of gross negligence, making public school districts culpable for accusations of child sex abuse if school officials fail to intervene.
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