Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Retroactivity in sex abuse cases isn't going to happen

To the surprise of absolutely no one, it does not appear as if the victims of child sexual abuse from decades ago are going to get justice.

Or at least their day in court.

Opponents of House Bill 1947, which would extend the window to victims to file legal actions from age 30 to age 50 - and more importantly allow those abused decades ago to seek civil redress now - have been successful in derailing the measure.

A state Senate committee yesterday moved the bill forward - they even lifted any time restraint on when a sex abuse victim could file suit - but they stripped out the crucial language that would allow victims to do so retroactively.

Again the key aspect was a fear among many, including Delco Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Haverford, the minority chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that the measure was unconstitutional.

The Judiciary Committee voted 9-4, with four other Philly area senators dissenting, to send the revised bill to the full Senate. It's a clear victory for the opponents of the retroactive language, the Catholic Conference, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the insurance industry. All feared a tidal wave of costly lawsuits if the retroactive measure had become law.

The bill had passed the House, 180-15, with the support of several Delco state reps. Several of them, including Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-162, and Rep. James Santora, R-163, said they took heat from the archdiocese for their votes in favor. Miccarelli even had his name casually dropped into the church bulletin at his home parish, St. Rose of Lima in Eddystone, as a reminder to parishioners that he had voted in favor of 1947.

Leach said he struggled with the issue.

"This has been a very difficult issue for me," the senator said. "I really want to keep retroactivity in there. I just don't feel I can," the lawyer said.

If approved by the full Senate, the bill would allow victims to bring action until they reach the age of 50, but only for future cases after the bill is signed into law.

One of the House's biggest backers of the retroactivity language, Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, himself a victim of abuse years ago, said it was merely one more time that "pedophiles and the institutions … they have gotten another free pass.”

Gov. Tom Wolf had indicated he would have signed the original bill. It has long been supported by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

You could make the argument that the question of whether or not the bill is constitutional is not the Legislature's job. They should vote on the measure and then let the courts determine whether it's constitutional or not.

It doesn't appear as if that's going to happen.

And it looks like those Delco state reps put their necks on the line for nothing.

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