Pa. House republicans take action on behalf of crime victims

April is “Victim Protection Month” and in response a wide-ranging package of bills to support and empower victims and survivors is now headed for the Senate.

House Republicans have passed more than a dozen bills this month that are related to the support and empowerment of crime victims and abuse survivors. They are focusing their efforts on giving a voice to those who may feel like they’ve been silenced.

“Ensuring victims of crime feel like lawmakers are listening and working on their behalf is a crucial part of our responsibility as elected leaders. The rights of the accused are rightly protected by our Constitution, but we must also ensure the rights of victims are respected,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “Our members joined colleagues across the aisle, and in the Senate, in making April ‘Victim Protection Month,’ because whether a person is victimized in our communities, places of worship, or workplaces, their voices deserve to be heard and their rights protected.”

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) adds, “This multi-week approach to protecting and promoting victims’ rights shows just how much our chamber can accomplish when we put our differences aside and focus on listening to the needs of Pennsylvanians. Our work on this important topic is not over. We will continue to carefully review our current laws, programs and services to ensure we have proactive laws and policies in place that support crime victims and their families while keeping all our communities safe.”

Included in the package of bills is a wide range of legislation to protect the rights of victims. These include when victims testify in court, protecting the statements provided by children and amending the state Constitution with a victims’ bill of rights.

The House additionally acted on the recommendations of the statewide grand jury investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. By the end of the session on Wednesday, April 17, all four recommendations will have passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support this month.

A complete list of the bills related to protecting crime victims follows:

-House Bill 276, sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), is a joint resolution, known as Marsy’s Law, that would add a victims bill of rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution pending approval of voters in a referendum.

-House Bill 502, sponsored by Rep. John Hershey (R-Franklin/Juniata/Mifflin), would ensure victims are able to attend proceedings against their abusers

-House Bill 503, sponsored by Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming/Union), would help victims and witnesses with intellectual disabilities or autism to submit out-of-court statements rather than face their perpetrators in court.

-House Bill 504, sponsored by Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington), would shield rape victims from irrelevant cross examination by ensuring that prior sexual assaults or other prior acts of victimization against a rape victim cannot be used at trial for the purpose of attacking the victim’s character.

-House Bill 505, sponsored by Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), would expand the types of crimes in which out-of-court statements by child victims or child witnesses could be admitted by the court, avoiding further trauma for the affected children.

-House Bill 854, sponsored by Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland), would treat strangulation as a major offense to help protect against abuse and sexual violence.

-House Bill 991, sponsored by Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks), would require pension forfeiture for sexual offenses committed by public officials and employees.

-A two-bill package known as The Pennsylvania Hidden Predator Act:

-House Bill 963, sponsored by Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), would amend the state Constitution’s provisions regarding the statute of limitations. The bill proposes to amend Section 11 of Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution (“Remedies Clause”). It would provide a two-year window for anyone whom a statutory limitations period has expired to commence action arising from childhood sexual abuse.

-House Bill 962, sponsored by Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), would also address the state’s statute of limitations law by amending the crimes code to provide a prospective extension of the statute of limitations for criminal offenses of childhood sexual abuse. It would also waive the defense of sovereign immunity in childhood abuse claims for damages caused by actions or omissions constituting negligence.

-House Bill 1051, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery), would amend the Child Protective Services Law, increasing the penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse. It also broadens the “continuing course of action” provision.

-House Bill 1171, sponsored by Rep. Tarah Toohill (R-Luzerne), would prohibit the use of nondisclosure agreements that prevent victims of childhood sexual abuse from disclosing the name of a person suspected of childhood sexual abuse or cooperating with law enforcement investigations into child sexual abuse claims.

-House Bill 279, sponsored by Rep. Karen Boback (R-Luzerne/Lackawanna/Wyoming), would provide civil immunity for any damage that may be done to a vehicle when forceful entry is necessary to rescue a child. The immunity would only apply when the person acts reasonably under certain circumstances.

-House Bill 288, sponsored by Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh/Montgomery/Northampton), and known as Caylee’s Law, would increase the penalty for concealing the death of a child from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000.

-House Bill 315, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery/Philadelphia), would establish the offense of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The procedure is almost always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The World Health Organization estimates that 140 million women and children worldwide have been affected by female genital cutting.

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