Pennsylvania Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, has named a bipartisan panel of six state representatives charged with hashing out a compromise that would allow the House to move toward a vote on legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
The Democratic and Republican caucuses failed to reach an agreement on the House rules governing a special session called by Gov. Tom Wolf for the General Assembly to vote on a constitutional amendment to give adult abuse survivors a window to sue their attackers.
The state Constitution requires proposed amendments to be approved by both chambers in consecutive sessions before they can appear on a ballot for voter approval.
The vote is time sensitive because it must happen by Jan. 27 for the Department of State to advertise the proposed amendment in early February. An error by the department in 2021 after the General Assembly had twice approved the survivors’ amendment set the process back to square one to the frustration of abuse survivors across the state.
After the House adjourned Monday without adopting rules, Rozzi said he would appoint a working group of three Republicans and three Democrats to break the impasse.
The members of the group are:
- Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin
- Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia
- Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny
- Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh
- Rep. Valorie Gaydos, R-Allegheny
- Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery
The working group will meet Tuesday to organize and will continue to meet regularly until an agreement is reached.
Rozzi said that while the group does not include members of House leadership, he hopes that leaders from both parties will continue efforts separately to agree on rules.
“The House Democratic Caucus is hopeful that these discussions will yield the outcome necessary so that members will soon be able to return to the special session to finally provide survivors of childhood sexual abuse with a path toward justice,” spokesperson Nicole Reigelman said.
The amendment would create a two-year exception to the statute of limitations for survivors whose claims are too old to bring to court under existing law. A push for the amendment began 17 years ago after grand jury investigations uncovered widespread abuse and systematic coverups by the Catholic church.
House Republicans have accused the Democratic caucus of refusing to meet when Republican lawmakers were ready to vote Monday.
Democrats say the special session is limited to the survivors’ amendment, which passed in both chambers with bipartisan support last session. Republicans said the special session is unnecessary and that the survivors’ amendment should not be prioritized over GOP-backed amendments on voter identification, election audits and legislative review of regulations.
The Republican-controlled state Senate on Wednesday approved the survivors’ amendment as part of a package that includes the voter ID, election audit, and regulatory review amendments.
While Democrats in the Senate accused lawmakers of using survivors and the proposed statutory window to advance the GOP’s agenda, Senate Republicans noted that voters, should the amendments reach the ballot, will consider the proposals individually.
“This is an important issue, but it is not the only issue,” Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said of the two-year window. “And we have the opportunity now to resolve the significant matter of statute of limitations.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, said during an interview on a conservative radio show that Senate Republicans will “be the firewall for Pennsylvania” to block the statute of limitations proposal if the voter identification and regulatory amendments do not move forward.
“We do have serious plans,” Mastriano said. “People might not like the approach, but we do have serious plans on moving forward legislation in some capacity.”
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