Apr. 25, 2019

The House of Representatives this month worked in a bipartisan fashion to advance a package of bills aimed at supporting the rights of crime victims in Pennsylvania.

Crime victims have done nothing wrong and yet they are violated by their perpetrators and then not properly supported by the current legal system in many instances. Our efforts over the last month seek to change that.

The bills passed by the House would ensure victims can attend proceedings against their abusers; help victims and witnesses with intellectual disabilities or autism testify in court; shield rape victims from irrelevant cross examination; strengthen protections for young abuse victims; permit individuals who have signed a confidentiality agreement the right to communicate with law enforcement at any time; ensure the offense of strangulation is as fully incorporated into our body of laws as other similar offenses; increase the penalties for failing to report ongoing child sex abuse; and close a loophole in the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act so that all sex offenses found under Chapter 31 of Title 18 would require pension forfeiture by all public officials and public employees.

Each of these bills seeks to address a specific shortcoming in the existing judicial system when it comes to crime victim rights and protections.

Also among the bills is House Bill 276, known as Marsy’s Law, which would change the Pennsylvania Constitution to ensure crime victims have the right to receive information about their rights; receive notification of proceedings in their criminal cases; be present at court hearings; be heard at plea and sentencing proceedings; and be treated with fairness, respect and dignity.

Last session, Marsy’s Law passed both chambers of the General Assembly. Identical language, which is contained in House Bill 276, must be passed this session and then approved by voters through a ballot referendum before it can be included in the state Constitution. Pennsylvania is one of only nine state’s without statutory rights for victims in its constitution.

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. One week after Marsy’s death, her mother and brother, Henry Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family was unaware that the accused had been released on bail. To honor his sister, Nicholas has made it his life’s mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights.

The House also passed the Pennsylvania Hidden Predator Act in direct response to the horrible crimes that have been revealed to have taken place within multiple archdioceses across Pennsylvania. Many of the victims, who are now adults, have no tangible way to seek justice against their perpetrators since the window of time in which to bring charges has expired. House Bills 962 and 963 would work to expand the time in which suits could be filed for all victims of child sexual abuse.

House Bill 962 would change the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, allowing childhood victims until age 55 to file suit, and provide for waivers of sovereign and governmental immunity relating to claims of childhood sexual abuse. It would also abolish the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse moving forward.

House Bill 963 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide a two-year window in which civil lawsuits alleging childhood sexual abuse may be filed in court, notwithstanding any otherwise applicable statute of limitations defense.

Each of the above bills has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

I am proud of the work we have done over the past month on behalf of the rights of victims and look forward to continuing to improve Pennsylvania’s justice system.