Sen. Baker Comments On Passage Of Statute Of Limitations Reform Legislation

Sen. Baker’s remarks on HB 962

Sen. Baker’s remarks on HB 963

HARRISBURG — Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20th, offered the following remarks in support of the statute of limitations reform efforts, and her amendment to change the time that a person between the ages of 18 and 23 has to bring a civil claim for sexual abuse from 2 years under current law to the age of 30, increase the criminal statute of limitations to 20 years for this same class of victims, up from the existing 12 years after the offense was committed, and transfer $5 million into the Crime Victims Compensation Fund to fund counseling services.

Earlier this week, Baker worked to remove some of the barriers victims of sexual assault experience in accessing these services and receiving the help they need by removing age and reporting requirements and ensuring that a victim, regardless of their age at the time of a sexual offense, may receive payment for counseling.

On her amendment to House Bill 962:

“This evening we are making a concerted effort to reach agreement on changing the statute of limitations for the victims of sexual abuse. For the sponsor of this bill, along with other members of both the House and Senate, this is deeply, deeply personal – these individuals are survivors. We must acknowledge and thank them for their advocacy, commitment and determination to right an egregious wrong.

When the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings several weeks ago, we indicated that the testimony would be used to help strengthen the bill before us. We listened. We listened to intensely painful and impactful testimony from victims and survivors who shared their experiences and offered recommendations.

What we learned was the arbitrary age thresholds established years ago no longer are sufficient to deal with the horrific and widespread cases of abuse that continue to surface.

Recent research findings and the testimony provided during our Judiciary Committee work tell us there is another age group of victims who deserve access to the remedies we intend to provide those below 18 years of age.

The Committee heard from Laquisha Anthony, a student/athlete at Kutztown University. During her first weeks in school, she talked of her excitement about being in college, participating in track and field and meeting new friends. She met another athlete, a person she wanted to get to know and spend time with. 

Unfortunately, that exhilaration went terribly wrong. What ended up happening to her was sexual assault and life changing trauma in her very first few weeks at college. Laquisha is one of several survivors who offered testimony who were older than 18.

This amendment brings victims between 18 through the age of 23 into the bill. There are several significant factors that warrant this addition to the complicated matter of providing redress to the many victims who have come forward and the unknown number who may yet do so.

          *There are multiple studies showing that brain development continues into a person’s early to mid-20s.

          *There is a shocking prevalence of sexual abuse and assault cases reported by college students.

          *One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college.

          *More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

We have acted previously to remove punishments for those who come forward and implemented anonymous reporting on college campuses, so we have clearly agreed that this age range is a vulnerable population.

The changes contained in the amendment provide:

          *For victims 18 thru 23, a civil claim can be filed up to the age of 30. Right now that law gives them  2 years.

          *For the criminal statute of limitations that will go to 20 years, up from the existing 12 years.

Our prevailing concern must be with victims, irrespective of the place where the abuse occurred or the condition of the balance sheets of the institutions that may have condoned or failed to respond to the degree they were morally obligated to. We rarely talk about those survivors of abuse for whom a window may never provide a pathway to justice.

This amendment, along with the previous changes that added the opportunity for any child or adult survivor of sexual abuse to obtain counseling through our Crime Victims Compensation Fund, that strengthens and enhance the underlying bill.  The fund is the payer of last resort, but for many it represents the only option.

So in setting out to do the right thing for victims, we must not be too limited in our determination as to who qualifies. And therefore adding this important amendment strengthens and improves this bill significantly.”

On House Bill 963:

“No one can truly understand the pain of victims or their anger over a system that has discouraged them and a debate that at times disparaged them, and the urgency they feel toward dramatic and irrevocable change. Fortunately, no one to my knowledge has come locked in a position that they want to do nothing. In the end, our differences come down to variant views on how and when remedies become available.

This evening, I believe we have an opportunity to advance consequential change by enacting all four of the Grand Jury Recommendations and offering greater protections for victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

Therefore, I rise in support of HB963, which amends Section 11 of Article One of our Constitution to create a two year civil window for time barred claims on child sexual abuse.

My interpretation of the oath I took to support the Constitution leads me to this position.

We properly think of the constitution as enumerating our rights and enshrining our freedom.  But it also contains limitations designed to prevent passion from overtaking reason. The Pennsylvania Constitution contains more rights and more limitations than does the federal constitution.

The framers realized situations would arise that were not even contemplated at their time. The remedy is to change the constitution, with the approval of our citizens, a deliberate process that ensures the change is thoroughly examined and deemed acceptable. The answer is not to end run the constitution, or to pass something and let the courts decide. That is an abdication of our legislative responsibility.

There is an instructive point in this debate worth repeating. The prime sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment was himself a victim of abuse. Does anyone really think he wants to delay or deny justice to victims? Does anyone really think he is looking out for the interests of a powerful lobby group?  Does anyone really think he relishes being denounced and berated by the arch advocates of side-stepping the constitution? No, he came into office committed to finding a solution, and determined that a constitutional amendment is in the long run the most reliable and direct route. He is not making a casual or political judgment about someone else’s situation.

There is something more that can take place constructively. Until the time that voters render a judgment on a constitutional amendment, those organizations that had established victim compensation funds should reopen the window. Other organizations where abuse occurred should establish such funds, to let victims make a decision on immediate recourse or broader recourse in time. We already know that some choose the fund, and others continue to advocate a fuller set of remedies.

From the standpoint of law, pursuing the constitutional amendment route is sound and prudent. From a practical standpoint, it is a safeguard against a court ruling overturning the legislation we are endeavoring to pass. From a public standpoint, the referendum requirement ensures that people understand and approve of what we are doing here.

In our concern about litigation, we must take into account not just the legislation before us, but subsequent legislation that would seek to remedy other abuse cases that come to light. We may fervently hope that everything has been uncovered, but that is highly unlikely.

Acting on this proposed constitutional amendment does not preclude or negate legislation underway. 

Rather, it provides the best guarantee possible for abuse victims: that the sought after changes to statute of limitations will not come undone with an adverse court ruling.

I believe House Bill 963 represents a clear pathway forward.”

Contact:       Andrew M. Seder    aseder@pasen.gov     (570) 226-5960