Pennsylvania lawmakers voted Tuesday to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue and more time for prosecutors to bring charges against perpetrators.
The state House voted 180-15 to approve a bill that changes the age limit from 30 to 50 for people who were abused as children to bring civil lawsuits.
It applies retroactively so that past abuse victims can sue. It would also prevent organizations from claiming immunity from lawsuits when they have acted with gross negligence.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
The proposal also would eliminate the statute of limitations in future criminal cases for a list of more severe crimes that involve child victims. That provision is not retroactive.
The vote followed an emotional floor speech by Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who described in detail his own abuse as a child through his Catholic church.
"All I want is justice," Rozzi said. "I want justice for all my friends who have been sexually abused. They knew what they did — they covered it up. And now they need to be held accountable. That's the bottom line."
Opponents warned the legislation could punish current church members for abuse by priests and others who are now dead or long retired.
"Money damages will be paid by today's parishioners, who had nothing to do with abuse from years ago," said Paul Schemel, R-Franklin.
The bill's retroactive provisions were a concern for Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, who lost an effort to delay consideration for a month so he could research the proposal's constitutionality.
"We can't just say, 'Let's let the courts sort it out,'" Diamond said. "We are co-equal branch."
Rozzi said courts have upheld retroactive provisions in other cases.
"There's no unfair surprise in holding rapists of children and those that covered up for those rapists liable for their actions," Rozzi said.
The measure goes to the Senate, where it will need approval before going to the governor.