HARRISBURG — For the first time, prominent Republican state senators on Wednesday put their support behind legislation in Pennsylvania to change the law to allow now-adult victims of child sexual abuse to sue the perpetrators or institutions that did not prevent it when it happened years or decades ago.

The vote, 11-3, in the Senate Judiciary Committee comes after years of damning investigations into child sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses and signals that the legislation may have enough Republican support to pass the full state Senate.

Similar legislation passed the House earlier this month and Democrats — including Gov. Tom Wolf, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and practically all of the party’s members of the Legislature — have backed the effort.

“Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Now it’s time to deliver justice and closure for those who spoke up, relived their trauma, and bolstered the system for future victims.”

Many childhood victims of sexual assault lost the right to sue in Pennsylvania when they turned 18 or were young adults, depending on state law at the time.

Advocates for survivors of childhood sexual abuse say restoring the right to sue will benefit adults who, as children, were abused not only by Catholic clergy, but by public school teachers, coaches, relatives or youth group leaders, for starters.

Under the legislation, they would have two years to sue over their alleged abuse, no matter how long ago it occurred.

For years, Senate Republicans have blocked such legislation, arguing that it is unconstitutional to retroactively take away a right that someone had — immunity from lawsuits — although critics of that argument say the constitution never guaranteed anyone immunity from a criminal act.

In 2019, Senate Republicans shifted to backing a move to change the constitution to restore the right to sue over childhood sexual abuse.

On Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, said that as long as lawmakers are unified around the idea of changing the constitution, he is willing to back legislation to change the law and see what happens in court if it is challenged.

“If there’s enough vagueness at least to be argued, I’m prepared to let all the lawyers have their day, the judges to have their day, and most importantly victims of these terrible crimes to have their day,” Corman told the Judiciary Committee hearing.

The Legislature had been on track to let voters in the May 18 primary election decide whether to allow a two-year window, the final step to changing the constitution. But it was derailed in early February by the revelation of a massive bureaucratic oversight.

“If you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, told the committee.

Under the bill, a legal challenge goes straight to the state Supreme Court.

Historically, Roman Catholic bishops have opposed efforts to change the law. On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which lobbies Harrisburg on behalf of the state’s bishops, declined to comment or take a position on the bill.

Amid the fight in the state Capitol, Pennsylvania’s dioceses set up temporary victim compensation funds, awarding millions of dollars to victims by the time they closed in 2019, but requiring those who accepted money to give up the right to sue the diocese later.

A prominent backer of the legislation, Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, praised Corman for showing the leadership in his first months as the Senate’s top officer to get the bill through the committee. Corman’s predecessor as president pro tempore, Joe Scarnati, had staunchly opposed the legislation.

It is the first time the legislation has gotten a real committee vote since he joined the Legislature in 2013, Rozzi said.

“I feel really, really good right now, I feel like we’re in a really good spot,” said Rozzi, who has told of his rape by a Roman Catholic parish priest when he was 13. “I think we have the votes in the Senate too.”