The state Senate voted 49-0 June 30 to approve its amended version of House Bill 1947.
That bill, passed by the House in April, called for lifting the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits retroactively. It would allow for private institutions in the state, including the Catholic Church, to be sued for unlimited damages for childhood sexual abuse cases from decades ago.
The Senate bill was amended by the Judiciary committee June 28 to remove the retroactive provision and allow civil suits prospectively, or going forward only.
Following hearings with legal experts June 13, the committee passed the amendment citing conflicts with Pennsylvania’s state constitution.
Among others offering testimony, solicitor general Bruce Castor of the state Attorney General’s Office explained that the U.S. Constitution provides a basic level of legal protection against reviving civil claims on cases stretching back decades when memories may fade and witnesses and evidence are scant or nonexistent.
The Pennsylvania Constitution adds an added layer with its “remedies clause,” and because of this, the retroactivity provision of HB 1947 would likely render it unconstitutional, Castor argued. Most of the other six experts offering testimony agreed with his assessment of the bill.
The amended Senate bill prospectively allows abuse survivors to sue either public or private entities under an equal standard of proof until they reach age 50, and allows survivors to sue in certain cases beyond age 50.
Both House and Senate versions of the bill call for prospectively removing the criminal statute of limitations on cases of child sexual abuse.
The bill now goes back to the House for concurrence.
Read more about the Senate bill here.