AICUP Message to Friends of Independent Higher Education
June 20, 2016

Senate Hearing on Statute of Limitations Expansion

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), last week held a hearing regarding HB 1947, legislation that would expand the statute of limitations.  This bill would eliminate all criminal statute of limitations on future child sex crimes, prospectively raise the statute of limitations for civil suits from its current age of 30 to 50, and allow past victims of sex abuse aged 50 and under the opportunity to file a civil lawsuit retroactively against a private or nonprofit institution (but not against public ones).   In his opening remarks, Senator Greenleaf acknowledged that legislators were very aware of the horrible instances of child sex abuse and the reasons for eliminating the criminal statute of limitations.  He requested that testifiers focus their comments on the constitutionality of the retroactive civil lawsuit provisions of the bill. 

Attorney General Kane expressed her desire for this bill to pass, but she urged a cautious approach and admonished the Committee to “get it right.”  Solicitor General Bruce Castor, the second highest ranking official in the state Attorney General’s office, testified that the “remedies clause” of the Pennsylvania Constitution “creates a bar to any legislative effort to make a change in the statute of limitations apply retroactively because the clause prohibits the elimination of a fixed right.”  Bruce Antikowiak, a law professor at St. Vincent College, provided a detailed legal analysis to the committee supporting Mr. Castor’s position.  He noted that precedent regarding the “remedies clause” existed in case law going back to before the Civil War.  Stephen Mikochik, a Temple University law professor, noted that the retroactive provision creates other problems regarding the preservation of evidence, lapsed memories, and death of witnesses. 

Marci Hamilton, a leading proponent of statute of limitations reform, was the only testifier to support the retroactive provision.  Hamilton suggested that the bill be passed and let the courts decide the provision’s constitutionality. 

In a statement after the hearing, Senator Greenleaf disagreed, indicating that lawmakers have a duty to uphold the Constitution.  Given the testimony, the Senate may be inclined to eliminate the provision regarding retroactive civil claims.  However, the prospective expansion of the criminal and civil statute of limitations involving child sexual abuse contained in HB 1947 may proceed.

Did you know?  A hearing agenda, list of witnesses, and testimony can be found here