Going Nowhere on Cases of Past Child Abuse
9/28/2018
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Weekly Roundup
The latest news from the State Capitol
 
Going Nowhere on Cases of Past Child Abuse

This week, the House amended Senate Bill 261, a bill which was designed to adjust the statute of limitations for both criminal and civil claims in cases of child sexual abuse. Under the current law, victims of child sexual abuse have until age 30 to bring a civil claim (i.e., to sue the abuser or the institution which employed them) and until age 50 to press criminal charges. We refer to this as a statute of limitations because it limits the time during which a victim must bring a claim. Statutes of limitations are intended to ensure that victims bring timely claims so that defendants have the ability to appropriately defend themselves before evidence and witnesses grow stale. Statutes of limitations have been part of our legal protections since the Magna Carta, signed in the year 1215.

The normal statute of limitations for crimes and offenses is two years, with some limited exceptions. Since child trauma often causes victims to struggle with a decision to come forward, the Legislature made the current 30/50 changes to the law in the wake of the Sandusky affair a few years ago. Senate Bill 261 would make Pennsylvania’s civil statute of limitations on claims of child sexual abuse longer than any other state.

The House initially amended the bill by mandating that public schools be treated the same as any other institution. However, the bill was substantially amended again. The final amendment protects public schools by giving them special exceptions, including caps on how much they can be sued and a higher standard of proof which a victim would have to offer in court. In addition, the amendment also created a two-year “window” in the law which will allow all victims of child sexual abuse to sue anybody for any abuse suffered at any time. With the exception of public schools, in all other cases the victim only need prove to the court that the evidence of their abuse is only more likely to have occurred than not. In other words, the judge or jury need only be 51 percent certain that the abuse occurred as described.

I opposed this amendment, just as I did when it was last brought before the House two years ago. It is my opinion that there are substantial constitutional flaws with opening a retroactive window allowing people to sue for claims decades old and long after the then current statute of limitations. The Constitution guarantees the due process of the law. I am not, however, insensitive to the plight of victims, and I do firmly believe that abuse which occurred in the past and which was concealed by churches, institutions and schools should be made public. This is the right thing to do for victims, the damaged institutions and the public. That is why I introduced a proposal which would establish a truth and restoration commission which I detailed in a past Roundup.

Senate leaders have publicly announced that they are unlikely to accept the amendments that the House has made to Senate Bill 261, for the same general reasons which I have stated. It is my hope that, next year, the House and Senate take a different approach to this subject, whether it be my proposal or another, so that the endless ping-pong between the legislative bodies can end, and both House and Senate can agree on a solution

I was interviewed about my proposal this week by the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). The program is scheduled to air on Monday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. 
 
 
Should Local Judges or Harrisburg Politicians Make Decisions?

This week, the House also took up House Bill 2060, legislation which would mandate that all weapons be removed from the possession of an individual who is the subject of a protection from abuse order (PFA).

Under current law, judges draft PFAs to fit the particulars of the circumstances of each case. For example, a PFA may permit the offending party to work in the same building as the person seeking the protection, but require that the offending party maintain a distance from the other party. This is the case of a current PFA recently obtained by one House member against another. The judge also uses his or her discretion in regard to other things, such as whether to order the removal of the offending party’s weapons.

In preparation for this vote, I spoke with several attorneys who practice in this area, as well as a common pleas court judge. The general consensus among those individuals is that PFAs are fairly easy to obtain, and are frequently used to prevent harassment. Imagine a divorcing spouse who continues to show up at the workplace of another and harass them. The PFA is typically adequate to stop the harassment. Sending a sheriff’s deputy to collect all of the guns of the harassing party can ratchet-up an already tense situation, which is why judges currently use their discretion and only order the removal of firearms when absolutely necessary. The concern of the attorneys was that House Bill 2060 would actually make it more difficult to obtain PFAs.

I don’t believe that the issues involved with the legislation include Second Amendment rights infringement. Courts already possess the authority to order the removal of firearms when there is a credible threat. However, I do believe that House Bill 2060 would make it more difficult to obtain a PFA and would unnecessarily increase the tension in already tense situations. I prefer to allow local judges who actually meet the parties involved to continue to use their best judgement as to when firearms should be removed and when it is not necessary. That is why we have judges and why they hold hearings. Politicians in Harrisburg who do not know the parties or the circumstances are a poor substitute. 
 
 
How Did I Vote This Week?

Find out how I voted this week here. My goal is to be as open and transparent as possible about the votes I cast on legislation that is important to you. 
 
 
Guardian of Small Business

I was honored to be named a “Guardian of Small Business” by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) for my 100 percent voting record on behalf of Pennsylvania’s small-business owners during the 2017-18 session. I am a firm believer that small businesses are the backbone of the economy and the General Assembly should do all we can to help them grow. I was one of 40 state legislators to receive the award this session. 
 
 
Expanding Broadband Access and Availability

More than 30 House members gathered Tuesday at the Capitol for the inaugural meeting of the General Assembly’s Broadband Caucus. The goal of the group, which includes members from both sides of the aisle, is to bring access to high-speed internet to unserved and underserved areas of Pennsylvania.

Speakers included representatives from AT&T, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Department of Community and Economic Development, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Pennsylvania State Grange.

Leaders of the caucus have put forward a four-bill package of legislation that would address compliance of non-rural telecommunication carriers, use of existing state communications assets, recommend improvements to the deployment of high-speed broadband services and audit the existing Educational Technology Fund. 
 
 
Road Work Ahead

Here is the list of road projects PennDOT has scheduled for Franklin County next week. Please exercise caution when driving through a work zone.
  • Black Gap Road in Greene Township – bridge approach
  • Horse Valley Road in Fannett Township – brush cutting
  • Lincoln Way in Guilford Township – bridge approach
  • Old Route 16 in Washington Township – repair driveways
  • Siloam Road in Greene Township – bridge demolition
  • Wayne Highway/Potomac Street in Washington Township – pipe trench/bridge approaches
 
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