Berks lawmaker pushes to make sex-abuse lawsuits retroactive

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, has been leading the fight to toughen state law in childhood sexual-abuse cases.

As legislation makes it way through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that could alter the time survivors of child sexual abuse would have to sue their perpetrators, a Berks County state representative plans to introduce an amendment that would include retroactivity – a move that’s met with resistance in the past.

In January, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved SB 261, which would remove any time limit for a future victim or a victim who is younger than 30 to sue the perpetrator; the criminal statute of limitations in these cases would be eliminated. Current law allows civil actions to be filed in these cases for 12 years after the victim turns 18, or until the alleged victim turns age 30.

The legislation moved out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month and will now head to the full House, where it could be considered later this month or in early May.

It’s been attempted previously – and resisted by Roman Catholic authorities and the insurance industry. Most recently, it was considered last year until it died over disagreement regarding the provision for retroactivity.

That same concept will be included in an amended that state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126th Dist., said he will introduce.

“We are going to amend it,” he said of the Senate bill. “I will put up an amendment to change the bill to make it retroactive.”

How it works is the Senate bill as it stands would only impact victims who are abused in the future, going forward from the day the bill would become law. Any person abused before the law was enacted, even yesterday, would receive no civil protections under the measure.

Rozzi’s amendment would provide for childhood sexual abuse victims to take their perpetrators to civil court up until the survivors are 50 years old.

He said there is also interest in the House for providing a two-year window allowing more survivors to take advantage of any changes to the law.

Prior concerns about the retroactivity included theories about constitutionality in Pennsylvania, although it has been enacted elsewhere, including at the U.S. Supreme Court level.

Rozzi, himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said he would be discussing the measure with state House Majority Leader David Reed, R-62, of Indiana County today.

He also said the Senate bill was a good vehicle to opening a conversation to include retroactivity.

“There definitely has to be more discussion,” Rozzi said.

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