Pennsylvania Senate committee Tuesday to consider bill extending statute of limitations on filing child sex abuse charges
HARRISBURG — The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet on Tuesday to consider a bill to extend the statute of limitations on filing child sexual abuse charges, the panel’s lawyer said.
The committee chairman, meanwhile, stepped aside to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
If the bill is approved, an amendment is expected to kill a provision allowing retroactive lawsuits to be filed until the potential victim turns 50.
A copy of the amendment was not available Monday night, said Patrick Cawley, counsel to the committee.
A House-passed bill would extend the age for filing civil lawsuits from 30 to 50 and prevent organizations from claiming immunity if they act with gross negligence.
A House-passed the bill after a statewide grand jury report in March that found widespread abuse by priests over several decades in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, recused himself from participation to eliminate any perception of a conflict of interest. He denied an actual conflict.
Victim advocates said Greenleaf should not have presided at a Senate hearing two weeks ago that they claim was stacked against them. Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Reading, the bill’s sponsor, said that hearing smacked of a “setup,” which Greenleaf’s staff denied.
Greenleaf’s law firm previously represented a monastic order in a civil suit alleging abuse. Since that hearing, Greenleaf said he learned his firm, Elliott Greenleaf, is being paid by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, to represent a witness in a child abuse sexual lawsuit.
“I have no personal or private interest in either of these cases, nor did I know of their existence,” he said.
“Perception and appearance in ethical matters are important — especially public perception of what legislators do in Harrisburg. In order to project a public perception, I voluntarily will no longer participate in any further legal proceedings on HB 1947, nor will I vote on the bill,” Greenleaf said.
Said Rozzi: “I congratulate him on doing the right thing.”
Rozzi, who says he was raped by a priest as a teenager, said members of the committee might have been “unduly influenced” at the hearing against the retroactive provision.
Rozzi asked the committee in a letter to “end the game playing and pure chicanery driven by special interest groups” and move the bill without amendments.
Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and [email protected].