In the waning days of his administration, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called for a special legislative session to add a constitutional amendment for sexual abuse survivors to the May ballot.
That amendment would retroactively extend the timeline for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits. Currently, victims of child sexual assault have until they are 30 years old to sue.
While Wolf has the backing of fellow Democrats, including House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), Republicans deem it unnecessary.
“For far too many Pennsylvanians, justice and healing for the pain they’ve experienced is out of reach,” said Wolf. “This special session is a critical step to allow the General Assembly to focus their work on this important, and potentially life-saving, task. No survivor should be denied the chance to hold their abuser accountable, regardless of how much time has passed.”
However, in 2021, Wolf’s Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar resigned after her department failed to advertise the same constitutional amendment so it could be on the ballot that May.
Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) issued the following statement to say a special session is not needed.
“In August, the Senate reaffirmed with Gov. Wolf our commitment to take the next step in the constitutional amendment process for victims of childhood sexual abuse in this legislative session, just as we have in previous legislative sessions, and consistent with the multiple legislative actions already taken to protect children and families.
“Gov. Wolf’s call of a special session a week before his term ends is an attempt by him to prioritize one issue while there are equally important issues that deserve the same consideration among the voters.
“The Senate has fully organized our chamber for the 2023-2024 legislative session and has put in place a robust session schedule, during which we plan to consider several constitutional amendments in the normal course of the legislative session. It is imperative that we work together to ensure constitutional amendments for voter identification, legislative review of regulations, election audits, and statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors can all be presented to voters. A special session is unnecessary to address constitutional amendments,” they said.
House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler agreed.
“It is understandable that Gov. Wolf would want to call for this special session as soon as possible given the election of Pennsylvania’s first Independent speaker of the House and the governor’s desire to make up the Department of State’s failures that led to justice being delayed to many survivors of child sexual abuse.
“However, it is not in the best interest of the Commonwealth to do this work in special session, where we are required to only work on a single issue,” Cutler said.
Wolf’s proclamation was welcomed by Rozzi, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
“For the last 10 years, I have fought this battle as a rank-and-file member. Promises have been made. Hope has been raised. But time after time, at the end of the day, for whatever reason, justice has been denied,” said Rozzi. “We are on a tight timeline. Pursuant to our constitution, this amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by the first week of February to be placed on the May primary ballot. If we are late, we risk this life-saving amendment not being placed on the ballot until the November general election.”
The House will not consider any other legislation first, he said.
Nicole Reigelman, a spokesperson for House Democrats, said they support Wolf.
“The House Democratic Caucus applauds Gov. Wolf and Speaker Rozzi for ensuring that this overdue measure receives swift action so that it can be put before the voters in May,” she said.
“Now is the time to stand together and send a clear message: childhood sexual abuse will not be tolerated in our c, commonwealth, and survivors will have the support they need to find justice,” added Wolf.
Wolf and legislative leaders agreed last August that the constitutional amendment process is the best path forward, he said.
“My friends, it is now 2023. We’ve talked the talk – now it’s time to walk the walk, together, one last time, for the victims of childhood sexual abuse,” said Rozzi.