HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Attorney General Kathleen Kane was the first to testify at a Senate hearing on House Bill 1947, which extends the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.
“I am here to speak on behalf of all of the children and all of the survivors of Pennsylvania,” Kane said and urged senators to vote for HB 1947.
But in a strange moment, Kane’s hand-picked Solicitor General Bruce Castor was next to testify and said that 1947 is, in part, unconstitutional. There is a provision that would let victims sue abusers and institutions even though their statute of limitations has expired. He said lawmakers do not have the power to grant such retroactivity.
“However righteous the policy goal is behind House Bill 1947, the General Assembly, in its zeal, cannot overrule a state constitutional right,” Castor said with conviction.
Basically, in layman’s terms, he’s arguing that the rules of the game cannot be changed after the game has been played. Several of the testifiers before the committee made the same case.
“The defense can say, ‘I don’t care what wrong I have done, you have waited too long to sue me.’ That is the law of Pennsylvania,” law professor Bruce Antkowiak of Saint Vincent College said.
State Representative Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) was abused by a priest in 1984 and is one of those victims whose statute of limitations has run out. He sat in the front row for the three-hour Senate hearing.
“That whole hearing reeked of being set up,” Rozzi said bitterly at a news conference on the Capitol steps afterward.
Rozzi insists the constitutionality of the HB 1947 is not as clear cut as the lopsided hearing made it sound, and the purpose of the hearing was to give senators an excuse to remove the provision allowing victims to sue retroactively. He also suggested that senators are bowing to pressure from the Catholic Church and the insurance industry.
“Are we looking at collusion at a state level setting up failure for the victims of this commonwealth?” Rozzi asked while pounding the podium.
Critics also questioned Castor’s credentials and credibility and his role in the Senate’s hearing.
“I don’t know why anyone would ask to testify someone who just lost an election because they covered up sexual assaults by Bill Cosby,” said Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University.
Victim groups held signs in support of HB 1947 and critical of senators who would bottle it up. Many suggested that the Senate should just pass the bill and let the Supreme Court be the ultimate arbiter.
“There are smart people who insist it isn’t constitutional and there are smart people who insist it is constitutional,” said John Salveson, an abuse survivor with the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse. “I’m pretty sure it isn’t the job of the senate judiciary committee to determine the constitutionality of a bill.”
The committee did not vote on HB 1947 Monday.
Currently, child abuse victims have until the age of 30 to bring a civil suit and the age of 50 to bring a criminal complaint. House Bill 1947 would push that to age 50 for a civil suit and completely remove the statute for criminal charges. They could be brought at any time.
Rozzi said when he was abused in 1984 at the age of 13, he had two years to file a civil suit and five years to make a criminal case. He would’ve been required to sue the church by the age of 15.