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Lawmakers Restart Amendment Process On Child Sex Abuse Suits

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Patrick Doyle
/
90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania lawmakers restarted the multi-year clock Tuesday on amending the state constitution to allow now-adult victims of child sexual abuse to sue their perpetrators or institutions that may have covered it up.

The state Senate voted, 44-3, after Republicans blocked efforts, primarily by Democrats, to make the change more quickly, through changing the law immediately or by speeding the proposal to voters in a referendum this spring through a rarely used emergency constitutional amendment process.

The debate has been spurred by investigations into child sexual abuse allegations inside Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses.

Lawmakers had been on schedule to deliver a proposed amendment to voters in a referendum in May 18's primary election before Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration revealed that it had made a massive procedural mistake and failed to advertise the proposal in newspapers last year, as it was required to do.

Without an emergency amendment, a referendum on the issue cannot happen now before 2023.

The proposed constitutional amendment would give now-adult victims of childhood sexual abuse a two-year reprieve — a so-called window — from time limits in state law that otherwise bar them from suing for civil damages.

Many victims lost the right to sue when they turned 18 or were young adults, depending on state law at the time. Under the proposed amendment, they would have two years to sue over their alleged abuse, no matter how long ago it occurred.

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