Rep. Mark Rozzi stormed out of the committee room Tuesday after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to strip a retroactivity provision he had advocated from a bill to extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits in child sex abuse cases.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, introduced an amendment that removed the Rozzi’s provision, which would have allowed victims older than 30 for whom the statute of limitations has expired until age 50 to file lawsuits. The provision was part of a bill approved by the House and pushed by Rozzi, who says he was raped by a priest as a teenager.
Scarnati’s amendment passed 9-4, with those in the majority questioning the constitutionality of allowing a victim of sexual abuse to file a civil case after the statute of limitations expired.
“Sen. Scarnati was definitely the hitman for the Catholic Church that stepped in to remove the retroactive piece of legislation that was most important for victims,” said Rozzi, D-Berks County. “He has stood up to protect pedophiles and the institutions that protect them.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, which represents for-profit insurers, had opposed the retroactivity provision, which the Senate committee ultimately removed.
Drew Crompton, general counsel for Scarnati, said, “Rep. Rozzi’s inflamed and degrading rhetoric doesn’t change what the (Pennsylvania) Constitution says. Sen. Scarnati’s amendment going forward actually strengthens the bill for victims of sexual abuse compared to the House version. Rep. Rozzi either does not know this or refuses to acknowledge this fact.”
As is, the bill would remove the criminal statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases moving forward and give victims until they are 50 to file civil suits against institutions found negligent.
It would remove the statute of limitations on civil suits against individuals who committed the sexual abuse. It would remove the statute of limitations against those who conspire with the perpetrator to facilitate the abuse and those who know about the perpetrator’s abuse but fail to report it to law enforcement.
The bill will move on to the Senate floor.
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, said the committee has an “independent obligation” to decide on the bill’s constitutionality.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, voted against Scarnati’s amendment and said the question of constitutionality is best left for the high court.
“I can’t think of a better case of first impression to go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to make a determination of the remedies clause of retroactivity for this kind of behavior,” Rafferty said. “I think the time has come.”
Rafferty, vice chair of the committee, replaced Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, as chair for committee action on the bill. Greenleaf recused himself to eliminate any perception of a conflict of interest.
Greenleaf’s law firm, Elliot Greenleaf, previously represented a monastic order in a civil suit and is currently representing a witness in a child sexual abuse case. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is paying legal fees to Greenleaf’s firm.
After gutting the retroactive provision, the committee passed the remainder of the bill unanimously.
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