HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania House approved a bill Wednesday to establish a two-year window for civil claims over childhood sexual abuse, part of a belt-and-suspenders approach that also includes a potential constitutional amendment.
The proposal was sent to the state Senate by a vote of 149 to 52, two weeks after both chambers finished the first round of approvals for the constitutional amendment.
Lawmakers had voted last session to put the amendment before voters during next month's primary, but the Department of State failed to advertise it as required, meaning that lengthy process had to be restarted.
Supporters are pursuing the lawsuit window as both regular legislation — the bill that passed through the House on Wednesday — and as a change to the state constitution that could take effect in 2023 at the earliest.
Democratic Rep. Greg Vitali, of Delaware County, the only member to speak against the proposal on the floor, warned it could prove expensive for Pennsylvania's public schools.
“If this passes we are going to subject public schools to more litigation, more attorneys fees, more payouts, and in light of the fact that we are imposing all of these other costs, like the unfunded mandates, like the inadequate funding, it makes what we’re going to do today less appropriate," Vitali argued.
He said the net result may mean spending cuts that affect schoolchildren.
The bill faces unclear prospects in the state Senate, where majority GOP caucus spokesperson Erica Clayton Wright would not say if the bill will be called up for a vote or if it has the support of Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland.
“As the Senate comes back to session, we will be working for the people of Pennsylvania to address how to responsibly allocate COVID-19 stimulus funding to help reopen our state, prepare to pass an on-time budget, and move forward with the governor’s cabinet confirmations,” Wright said in an email.
Supporters see the legislation and amendment as paths to justice for victims who lost the right to sue when they turned 18 or were young adults, depending on Pennsylvania state law at the time.