Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Legislation to Provide Justice for Child Abuse Victims, Aid in Suicide Prevention and Safeguard Children from Predators

Full Meeting Video: https://judiciary.pasenategop.com/042121-2/

Video of House Bill 951 Remarks: https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/xez56fay79

(HARRISBURG) – The Senate Judiciary Committee, today, advanced three pieces of legislation to help protect victims by allowing a two-year window for childhood sexual abuse survivors to pursue civil lawsuits, aiding in the prevention of youth and intellectually disabled suicides, and safeguarding children from predatory acts of adults in positions of authority, according to chairwoman Senator Lisa Baker (R-20).

House Bill 951, sponsored by Representative Mark Rozzi (D-126), amends the Judicial Code to provide a two-year window during which civil lawsuits arising out of childhood sexual abuse may be brought.  The legislation also explicitly states that public entities that are sued cannot use the defenses of sovereign and governmental immunity, nor are they shielded by laws that limit damages that may be awarded. House Bill 951, as amended, was passed out of committee by a vote of 11 to 3.

“The brave men and women who have endured years of struggling and challenges deserve access to justice,” Senator Baker said.  “Abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, and I believe we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result. The amendment that I offered today to House Bill 951 bolstered the protections in the bill and provided equal responsibility for private and public entities.  Abuse by an official or worker in a public position is no less horrific and harmful than when it occurs in a private setting.  It is no longer a justice system if victims are denied rights and remedies because of budgetary concerns.  When all is said and done, I intend to be able to look victims in the eye and look at myself in the mirror of my conscience.”

House Bill 184, sponsored by Representative Dawn Keefer (R-92), requires the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to provide a sentencing enhancement for a conviction of causing a suicide or for aiding or soliciting a person to die by suicide, when the person dying by suicide is either under 18 years of age, has an intellectual disability or has autism spectrum disorder.  House Bill 184 is supported by the District Attorneys Association and was passed by the committee by a vote of 13 to 1.

“Concerns regarding suicide have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senator Baker said.  “We must help to do everything within our power to support those struggling with suicidal thoughts, especially our youth and those who are more vulnerable.” 

Senate Bill 521, sponsored by Senator Bob Mensch (R-24), increases the grading for a conviction of invasion of privacy, if the offender is a teacher and the victim is a student, or if the offender is an adult and the victim is a minor.  Last year, a Pennsylvania math teacher was found guilty of taking “upskirt” photos of female students and sharing them online.  Because of current laws, the teacher was only charged with invasion of privacy and indecent exposure. Senate Bill 521 was unanimously passed by the committee.

“Parents expect and deserve that we do all we can to support and protect their children from all types of predators,” Senator Baker said.  “It is clear that Pennsylvania can and should implement harsher punishments for acts against minors.  Tragically, these types of horrific acts can have lasting negative impacts upon the lives of children. They must be confident that they can trust their teachers and other adults in positions of power.”

House Bill 951, House Bill 184 and Senate Bill 521 now advance to the full Senate for consideration.

 

Media Contact: Kate Flessner kflessner@pasen.gov