HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania lawmaker who has told of his victimization as a child by a Roman Catholic priest said Tuesday that he will keep fighting for legislation to allow onetime-child sexual abuse victims to sue for damages, despite the measure’s rejection in the Senate as the legislative session winds down.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, is backed by top House lawmakers, victim advocates and both major party candidates for state attorney general — Republican John Rafferty and Democrat Josh Shapiro — as part of wider legislation to respond to child sexual abuse cover-ups.
The provision would revive the ability of people to sue for damages if they are now older than the current legal age limit of 30 to sue. It is opposed by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, which represents for-profit insurers.
Jennifer Storm, the state’s victim advocate, said that the provision is the right thing to do for victims and that she did not want to have to tell age-limited victims, “sorry, today is not your day,” if the Legislature decides against helping them.
Attorney General Bruce R. Beemer has lent his support to the measure as state prosecutors are investigating allegations of child sex abuse in Roman Catholic Church dioceses across the state after uncovering a long-running scandal in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.
The widening investigation has inflamed an emotional debate in Pennsylvania, and states are increasingly relaxing statutes of limitations to give victims who are now older a new window to sue.
Another vote in the House is expected in mid-October, according to House GOP officials. That would leave the Senate a handful of scheduled session days to respond in the waning two-year legislative session.
The House approved the provision overwhelmingly in April as part of a wider bill that would lift other time limits for perpetrators of child sexual abuse to be sued by their victims and prosecuted by authorities.
The Senate blocked it in June amid concerns that it conflicts with constitutional case law. Rozzi said he is trying to change senators’ minds on the provision, and Beemer and others say there is a reasonable case to be made for its constitutionality and it should be up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to settle it.
The Senate returned the bill with the other provisions intact, including one that went further than the House bill in providing avenues for future victims to sue.
A Senate GOP spokeswoman on Tuesday accused Rozzi of holding up those other provisions.
“He’s holding victims hostage and he’s handcuffing law enforcement because every day that this goes unpassed is another day that the statute of limitations expires for a child rape victim,” spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.
Rozzi said his fight isn’t about him, but about helping all victims in Pennsylvania, “past, present and future.”
“The reason we are here today is because of the Altoona-Johnstown report that came out that discussed past victims,” Rozzi said. “If the Senate wants to keep deny, deny, deny or try to put blame on me, that’s on them, they have to wear that coat, not me. … I know when I go home at night, I can sleep.”