A change to state law to retroactively give victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue may be unconstitutional, reported The Associated Press.
A packed three-hour Senate Judiciary Committee hearing came against the backdrop of Roman Catholic Church scandals and a renewed push in Pennsylvania and other states to relax laws that prevent some child sexual abuse victims from suing for damages.
With victims of child sexual abuse looking on, Solicitor General Bruce L. Castor Jr. told senators that case law renders such a retroactive provision unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.
Castor was speaking for the state attorney general’s office after Attorney General Kathleen Kane, whose law license was suspended by the state Supreme Court last year, urged the panel in her seven-minute testimony to “get it right.”
The provision would have the effect of allowing child sexual abuse victims to file civil damages lawsuits, even if the window in current law that allows such a lawsuit had closed. It is contained in a wider bill to raise the age limit to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue and more time for prosecutors to bring charges against perpetrators. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly in April.
Under current law, people who say they were abused as children can bring civil lawsuits until they turn 30. The bill would raise that to 50. People who are over 30, but not yet 50, would be allowed to sue.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said that he would support it and that the question of constitutionality in a “case of first impression” is best left to the courts to decide.
Rafferty also noted that Kane, following a March grand jury report on a scandal in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, had urged lawmakers to suspend the civil statute of limitations or open a window to people who can no longer sue under current law.
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