READING, Pa. (WHTM) — Gov. Tom Wolf has signed three bills to reform the state’s statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases.
House Bill 962 eliminates the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children, instead of setting an age limit at 50, and extends the civil statute of limitations until the victim reaches age 55.
Victims previously had until age 30 to file a lawsuit.
Additionally, people who are sexually abused while between the ages of 18 and 24 have until age 30 to file a lawsuit, and the new law extends the criminal statute of limitations for 20 years.
House Bill 1171 voids confidentiality agreements that prohibit victims from talking to law enforcement. House Bill 1051 increases penalties for mandated reporters who fail to report suspected child abuse.
The bills address the recommendations of a grand jury that found more than 300 Roman Catholic priests and other clergy members in Pennsylvania dioceses sexually abused children since the 1940s.
The new laws take effect immediately.
“Victims of one of the most unimaginable forms of abuse will receive the support and rights they deserve,” Wolf said in a statement. “And while we celebrate the monumental victory of many survivors of childhood sexual abuse finally receiving their opportunity for justice, we must continue pushing forward until every survivor, of every age, has the chance to tell his or her story.”
Another recommendation by the grand jury, a two-year window for older victims to sue for damages if the civil statute of limitations has already expired, requires a change to the state constitution.
The Legislature passed House Bill 963 to make the constitutional change. The bill must pass the House and Senate again in the next legislative session before a ballot question can go before voters.