Rozzi, advocates, survivors push for statute of limitations reform before vote

HARRISBURG, April 3 – State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, led a rally on the Capitol steps today to highlight the long overdue need for reform of Pennsylvania’s laws affecting victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Last year, the statewide outpouring of support for statute of limitations reform following the attorney general’s release of the Altoona/Johnstown Diocese Grand Jury Report, propelled action on the issue.

Last April, H.B. 1947 with Rozzi’s retroactive provision, which would permit past victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their perpetrators, passed the House overwhelmingly, but was gutted and replaced by Sen. Joseph Scarnati’s version that removed the revival provision. The bill was not moved for a concurrence vote in the House.

The legislative debate over H.B. 1947 will carry over this week as S.B. 261 is scheduled for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The same language that was used to strip the House bill last session is in this year's S.B. 261. Rozzi introduced what he called the “real deal” (H.B. 612), reflecting the recommendations from the four grand jury reports conducted to date.

"We owe all victims of childhood sexual abuse a chance at justice,” Rozzi said. “We can compromise on pensions, liquor and the budget. But we should never make deals against protecting children.”

“Victims of childhood sexual abuse have waited long enough for reform of our arbitrary statute of limitations,” said Jennifer Storm, state victim advocate. “Access to justice cannot be limited to a few; it must be extended to all. We are imploring the legislature to pass a reform measure that encapsulates past, present and future victims, ensuring they all have a path to justice.”

“As more child abuse survivors step forward, more survivors feel that they are not alone, and are finally, maybe decades later, able to find the strength to disclose,” said Abbie Newman, founding executive director of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, Montgomery County. "These victims need to be able to seek their day in court and demand justice, so they can heal. That is why the retroactive window is so important to survivors; it is about healing.”

Rozzi pointed out that Scarnati has publicly stated that he is ready to negotiate with the House on every provision but the retroactive clause.

“Since when does the discussion begin and end with one legislator?” Rozzi said.

“This is a public safety issue,” said Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. “Victims who have been barred from seeking civil actions with arbitrary limitations have actually been barred from identifying offenders and protecting unsuspecting friends, family and acquaintances. We have seen far too often the avalanche of devastation that can be caused when offenders are allowed to continue operating ‘under the radar.’”

Rozzi praised the survivors of childhood sexual abuse who participated in the rally. “It takes every ounce of courage to stand here and be willing to share your gut-wrenching story. Every one of you, and those who can’t speak, deserve the ‘real deal,’” Rozzi said.