Thursday, June 30, 2016

House Bill 1947 & the constitutional question

It's always nice to know what you write is actually being read.

Or, in the case of my new Heron's Nest Podcast, being listened to.

Yesterday I wrote about the fate of House Bill 1947.

That's the measure that would open a window for past victims of child sexual abuse - including those abused by priests - to file civil suits. The measure would allow victims to seek action in civil court until age 50 - and also make it retroactive, meaning victims abused decades ago could seek redress.

But the Pa. Senate Judiciary Committee stripped out the retroactive language. In other words, if the bill is passed in its current form and signed into law, from that point forward victims would have until age 50 to sue their molesters and the institutions that employed them.

The fear is that the bill would not pass constitutional muster. That's the feeling of a lot of experts, including new Solicitor General Bruce Castor, who testified before the committee that he believed the retroactive language was unconstitutional.

I suggested in yesterday's blog that maybe that wasn't the Legislature's job, that maybe, as many experts have suggested, they should pass the legislation and let the courts decide the constitutional question.

That caught the attention of Steve Hoenstine.

He's the spokesman for state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, of Haverford. Leach happens to be the minority chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he also voted in favor of taking the retroactive language out.

Hoenstine disagreed with my suggestion, and he wanted to tell me why.

He noted that Leach "took an oath" when he was sworn in as a senator, and because of that, it is indeed his job to question whether or not a bill is constitutional.

"Ignoring that question (letting the courts decide), as you suggested this morning, is a dereliction of that duty," Hoenstine wrote. This is where it gets interesting.

Leach actually supports the retroactivity language in the bill. He wants to see justice delivered to the victims of sexual abuse. But he can't because he thinks the bill will not pass constitutional muster.

Hoenstine noted that the senator also supports raising the retirement age for state judges, but he has sued to stop exactly that from happening, and again he cites the fact that the way it was done is clearly unconstitutional.

"If he wins his lawsuit, he'll stop a proposal he supports from becoming law," Hoenstine said. "He's that dedicated to upholding his oath."

Well, at least I know one person is listening to the podcast.

Good morning, Steve.

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