Statutes of limitation go all the way back to English Common Law and exist to protect everyone involved. This proposed law is designed to bankrupt Catholic dioceses and slander the Church. Contact your state rep and state senator and stop this unconstitutional fraud.
In a three-hour long hearing steeped in references to Pennsylvania case law, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday heard expert testimony on the validity and viability of proposed legislation that would change how child sexual predators are prosecuted.
The hearing, which tipped markedly in favor of opponents of House Bill 1947, was held in a hearing room packed with victims advocates as well as past victims of sexual abuse. Many of them wiped away tears as a cadre of expert witnesses – with the exception of one – argued how the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from retroactively altering expired statutes of limitations.
The hearing, which featured five expert witnesses, only one testifying in support of the bill, focused on the constitutionality of the bill, which would impose look-back measures for past victims of abuse, including those molested by priests as children.
Much of the testimony centered around the state's constitutional remedies clause, which ostensibly bars the General Assembly from retroactively altering expired statutes of limitations.
Prior to the experts giving their testimony, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who in March released findings of a grand jury report that found systemic child sex abuse over decades in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, delivered a short appeal.
Kane, whose law license has been suspended in the wake of criminal charges stemming from the grand jury leak investigation, begged the panel to pass the bill immediately.
"I'm asking you to do that because every single day that goes by... is a day more and more and more victims are denied justice," she said.
Kane said that if after approval of the bill,the Senate found that it violated the state's Constitution, lawmakers should "figure out a solution" to the constitutional issue, whether that meant amending it "or whatever needs to be done but make firm commitment" to finding a way that "we are never denying justice to anyone in the Commonwealth."
Coming on the heels of Kane's short appeal, the second-highest ranking official in her office, Bruce Castor, the solicitor general, testified that the bill would violate the remedies clause of the state's Constitution, and therefore, prove to be unconstitutional.
"House Bill 1947, if enacted into law in its current form and without amendment will, in our opinion, violate the remedies clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution," Castor argued. "Potential defendants, who have had the statute of limitations pass without their being subjected to suit, will rightly claim a vested right in the applicable statute of limitations."
Castor said that while the bill represented "a laudable attempt to provide a remedy for a well identified social problem", the the General Assembly "in its zeal, cannot overrule a state constitutional right."
Castor based his conclusion in large part on a 1908 case involving a retroactive claim. In Lewis v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company, the state Supreme Court ruled against the widow of railroad worker who had filed a negligence claim retroactively against the company. The court, Castor said, had concluded that "retroactive legislation that reduces a defendant's defenses or "exemptions from demands" cannot be applied where the defense has "vested."
The state's remedies clause states that "all courts shall be open; and every man for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered without sale, denial or delay. Suits may be brought against the Commonwealth in such manner, in such courts and in such cases as the Legislature may by law direct."
House Bill 1947 came in the wake of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese grand jury report as a groundswell of advocates called for reform in the law. The bill, which was approved in the House by a 180-15 vote, would eliminate all criminal statutes going forward on most child sex crimes and retroactively amend civil statutes. The bill would retroactively extend civil statutes that expired at a victim's age 30 to 50.
Castor was followed by three other speakers - all of them law experts - who reiterated his stance that the bill would violate the state's remedies clause...