After Wolf Administration’s Blunder, Senate Action Re-Starts Process to Give Child Sexual Abuse Victims an Opportunity to File Civil Lawsuits

HARRISBURG – The Senate on Tuesday began the process of correcting an egregious blunder by the Wolf Administration by passing a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers, even if the statute of limitations had expired, according to Senator Bob Mensch (R-24), who supported the bill.

The proposed amendment in House Bill 14 would create a two-year window for retroactive lawsuits for victims whose statute of limitations has already expired. The Senate action is the first step to fix the failure of the Wolf Administration to properly advertise the amendment in accordance with the Pennsylvania Constitution. As a result, sexual assault survivors must now wait until 2023 at the earliest for the measure to be considered by voters.

Amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution must be approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions before going to voters.  Lawmakers approved this amendment in 2019 and were prepared to act so it could be considered as part of the May 18 primary election. The Wolf Administration’s failure to advertise prevented that.

“Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who I called on to resign a few months ago for issuing operation changes to the county boards of elections (a clear violation of the voting laws) resigned for yet another error regarding the constitutional amendment process in our state,” Mensch said. “After this inexcusable oversight, citizens of our Commonwealth are unable to change the constitution until at least 2023 to allow survivors of sexual abuse sue their perpetrators – a proposal that was approved by an overwhelming majority of both Republicans and Democrats.”

Lawmakers weighed several different options to fix the Wolf Administration’s blunder. However, none of these options – including an emergency amendment to the Constitution or legislation to open a two-year window for lawsuits – were likely to withstand legal challenges and would have provided false hope to sexual assault survivors.

Legal experts testified at a Senate hearing that legislation opening a window for lawsuits would likely be thrown out of court on constitutional grounds because the proposed law would not supersede the Remedies Clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The issue also does not meet the strict Constitutional requirements for an emergency amendment, which only applies when a major emergency threatens or is about to threaten the Commonwealth and the safety or welfare of the Commonwealth requires prompt amendment.

As a result, the only option for lawmakers to provide survivors a realistic opportunity for justice is to re-start the constitutional amendment process so the measure could appear on the ballot in two years. If approved in 2023, the measure would complete work on all the recommendations in the Grand Jury Report.

Other grand jury recommendations already adopted by lawmakers include:

  • Eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for future cases of sexual abuse of a child, as well as associated crimes such as human trafficking.
  • Extending the deadline for civil actions from age 30 to age 55.
  • Clarifying mandatory reporting standards for suspected cases of abuse.
  • Increasing penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse.
  • Ensuring survivors who sign non-disclosure statements are not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement regarding their abuse.

The bill was amended in the Senate and will return to the House of Representatives for final consideration.

For more information on Senator Mensch’s legislation, visit www.senatormensch.com.  State updates can also be found on Senator Mensch’s Facebook at facebook.com/PASenatorBobMensch/ or Twitter @SenatorMensch.

CONTACT: Madison Scarfaro mscarfaro@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388