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With Time Running Out, Senators Say They Won’t Pass Sex Abuse Bill As-Is

Carolyn Kaster

The state House has passed a major bill aimed at making it easier for victims of child sex abuse to sue their abusers.

The measure’s fate now rests with the Senate, and leaders say they have no intention of passing it without significant changes.

Both chambers agree on the proposal’s basic features.

It would get rid of the statute of limitations on all child sex abuse cases and extend the cap for victims to file civil suits against institutions.

But Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said he’s concerned the House version doesn’t include all the recommendations from a grand jury report on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church—like stronger reporting requirements and limits on nondisclosure agreements.

The bill also requires a higher burden of proof for public institutions than private ones. The standard for punishing a public institution that lets an abuser go unreported is “gross negligence” instead of “regular negligence.” It also includes a cap on compensation for victims in public institution cases.

“I think that sets up two classifications of victims,” Corman said. “And if you’re a victim, you don’t care if it’s a private priest or doctor or it’s a teacher. You deserve fair ability to seek compensation or seek justice through this system.”

“We are not going to concur on this bill…but we are committed to getting something that makes sense,” he added.

Perhaps more crucially, the House bill creates a two-year window for statute-limited abuse victims to sue, even if their cases have already expired.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati has been an adamant opponent of the provision, arguing that it is unconstitutional and could bankrupt churches.

Asked whether his opinion has shifted, he said only that he supports getting compensation for victims, then ignored other questions as he stepped into an elevator.

The Senate has only eight voting days scheduled to finish the bill before the session ends.

If the bill doesn’t pass, the whole process starts over next year.

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