The road to House Bill 1947 hits constitutional pothole in Harrisburg

That push to expand the window for victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania just hit a major pothole in Harrisburg.

Solicitor General Bruce Castor, second in command in Kathleen Kane's state attorney general's office, yesterday joined the chorus that believe a key part of the legislation is unconstitutional.

The setting was a Senate committee hearing on House Bill 1947, the controversial measure that would lift the statute of limitations for criminal charges in child sex abuse cases and extend the window for victims to file civil lawsuits from age 30 to age 50.

The bill is being bitterly opposed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the insurance industry. Remarkably, it sailed through the House of Representatives on a 180-15 vote and is now being taken up by the Senate.

There is no vote scheduled as yet. Yesterday's hearing was solely on questions about the constitutionality of the measure. Castor clearly came in on the side that has trouble with going back in time and changing a state statute.

"However righteous the policy goals, the General Assembly in it zeal cannot overrule a state constitutional right," Castor testified. That puts him in the camp of our lead Sunday columnist, Christine Flowers, herself an attorney, who made much the same argument against the measure on Sunday. She also pointed out something else the archdiocese has zeroed in on, that the legislation seems to offer different standards of victims in private institutions, such as the Catholic church or private schools, as opposed to public schools.

Several local state representatives say they are feeling the heat from the church after their votes in favor of the measure. Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-162, of Ridley Park, had his name dropped into the church bulletin at St. Rose of Lima with a reminder to parishioners that he voted in favor of the measure.

Rep. Jamie Santora, R-163, of Upper Darby, believes the archdiocese has come very close to "electioneering" in its active opposition to the bill.

I have two questions for the archdiocese.

Let's take the two key questions about this legislation off the table. Instead of going back and making the ability to sue retroactive, let's set a date and say that from this point forward, victims will have until age 50 to sue. And let's make the standard the same for both public and private institutions.

Would the archdiocese then support the measure?

And one other thing. I wonder how much the archdiocese is spending fighting House Bill 1947.

Several legislators and attorneys, including victims' advocate Marci Hamilton, testified yesterday they still believe the measure is constitutional and that the Senate should vote on it as it is and let the court decide its constitutionality.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, offered not timetable for a possible vote on the measure.


bmmg39 said…
The issue of inequity between private and public institutions is a major one, but in the reporting I see that point has merely been touched upon and then jettisoned in favor of personal anecdotes. What is the justification for holding private institutions to a different standard, both with respect to time and to a "cap" on how much money can be awarded?

Then there's also the matter of someone who might opportunistically concoct a story, and lodge a false accusation against someone who is now either elderly or deceased. In the latter case especially, that person would not be able to defend himself or herself.
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