Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed a series of childhood sexual abuse protections into law, matching Grand Jury recommendations following investigations into clergy scandals.
Central to these new laws is HB 962, which provides that victims under 18 will now be granted 37 years instead of 12 years to pursue civil actions, with the count beginning once the victim is 18 years old.
The majority of the changes from House Bill 962 will take effect once HB 963 is passed. HB 963 proposes an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution to extend the statutory limitations period for two years for already expired cases. Wolf expressed his support for HB 963 while signing the other bills into law.
In addition to HB 962, Wolf additionally signed HB 1051 and HB 1171. HB 1051 provides that if a person willfully fails to report a child abuse suspect, that action will be a third degree felony instead of a misdemeanor.
HB 1171 outlines contract disclosures for settling claims of childhood abuse. Any provision in an agreement shall be void and unenforceable if it “prohibits or attempts to prohibit the disclosure of a childhood sexual abuser’s name and other relevant information” or “impairs or attempts to impair the ability of a person to report a claim of childhood sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities.” Additionally, agreements and contracts settling a claim of childhood abuse must include a “notice to all parties” that states signers “do not surrender their right to speak to law enforcement about the actions, underlying facts or circumstances referenced in [the] agreement.”
These bills have received considerable support. Attorney General Josh Shapiro explained that “[t]hese reforms fundamentally change our justice system and will protect generations of children who experience abuse from this day on.”