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White Demands Action on House Ethics in Wake of Sexual Harassment Allegation

As it stands now if you are not a member of the legislature you can’t complain to the House ethics panel if a member sexually harasses you. You’re out of luck.

After testimony from lobbyist Andi Perez that she was sexually harassed by a Democratic state representative, Rep. Martina White sent a strongly worded letter Thursday to House Democratic leaders–Speaker Mark Rozzi and Leader Joanna McClinton–demanding action.

“As part of her moving testimony, which highlighted glaring holes in our ethics rules that have historically prohibited non-House employees from filing sexual harassment complaints against a member of the House, Ms. Perez called for reform of the sexual harassment reporting rules to allow anyone sexually harassed by a member of the House to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee,” White (R-Philadelphia) wrote.

“This lawmaker decided to caress my leg — I was wearing a skirt — all the while telling me he was impressed by my passion and knowledge of the issues we were discussing. … I moved away from him, hoping he would stop,” Perez said. “He did not.”

Perez did not respond to a request for comment.

House Republicans proposed ethics rules for the special session that, among other things, would allow for sexual harassment complaints to be filed by non-House employees. In a speech from the floor Thursday, GOP Leader Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) noted all 102 House Democrats voted against it.

Cutler also reminded House Democrats that they overwhelmingly opposed House Resolution 192 last session, a bill to tighten House ethical conduct rules regarding sexual harassment.

“I’m glad we’re having this discussion because I wanted to have it some time ago,” Cutler said of the debate over the proposed ethics rules.

White said action is necessary now to protect staff from the unnamed Democratic House member involved in the alleged harassment and who is part of the Democrats’ 102-101 majority.

“This being the case, it is incumbent on the Speaker’s office—who claimed responsibility for managing House space—and the House Democratic Caucus who, implicated in this matter, to ensure members, staff, and outside visitors to the Capitol are kept safe from this individual who now has a history of sexual harassment.

“As a female member of this House, I encourage both of your offices to engage in an investigation to affirmatively identify this member and take any required remedial action, including seeking their resignation,” White wrote.

McClinton also spoke from the fl6oorfloor, mocking Republicans for what she claimed is a new-found concern about harassment in the House.

“I am so grateful that on this day in history the minority caucus is interested in protecting victims of sexual harassment,” McClinton said. In the past, she said, Republicans, dismissed concerns. “But now that we’re here for special session — suddenly everyone in the minority caucus is interested in handling sexual harassment.”

She also claimed the Pennsylvania State House has “a culture where there is harassment, unfortunately, [that] needs to be addressed.” But, McClinton added, “this is not the time or the moment to do that.”

In a statement to DVJournal, McClinton said, “Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace, and no person should be harassed or made to feel uncomfortable in the course of doing their job.

“Unfortunately, despite persistent advocacy for many years by the House Democratic Caucus, the rules that have governed our chamber have not provided a pathway for lobbyists, media, and other credentialed personnel whose business requires engaging with House members to report that they’ve been harassed or experienced discrimination.

“As the first woman House Majority Leader, I can affirm that discrimination or harassment of any kind in our institution will be treated with seriousness and urgency and that the forthcoming House operating rules to govern our chamber will include a fair process for claims of harassment and discrimination for all protected classes,” McClinton said.

The Delaware Valley Journal repeatedly reached out to the House member who sources said had touched Perez. He did not respond.



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Bucks County Rep. Marcell Calls on Rozzi to Resign Speakership

Freshman state Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) is already making an impact in Harrisburg, releasing a statement calling on Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) to resign the speakership of the House of Representatives.

Like many of her fellow House Republicans, Marcell believes Rozzi has reneged on a pledge he made to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent once elected Speaker.

“Last week, I communicated my dissatisfaction with Speaker Rozzi and gave him an opportunity to keep his word, fulfill the promises he made to the citizens of Pennsylvania and members of the House, and call the House into session so we can begin the people’s business. Now that Mr. Rozzi has failed to take action on any of these items, I must ask for his immediate resignation as speaker of the House.

“With his announcement of a statewide tour as well as his failure to register as an Independent and build a bipartisan staff, it now clear that Mr. Rozzi has no intention of keeping his word,” said Marcell.

Marcell joins Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), who nominated Rozzi for the Speaker post, in calling on him to resign, claiming that he has not fulfilled his promises.  Rozzi did not immediately respond when asked to comment on Marcell’s call for his resignation.

Rozzi has also declined to make a clear public statement about what he pledged to do regarding his party registration when he was negotiating with Republicans. Democrats say he merely pledge to be an independent Speaker — avoiding partisan stances and declining to caucus with the Democrats.  Republicans insist he promised to drop his Democratic registration and become a capital-I independent.

“It’s time for Mr. Rozzi to honor the commitments he made in accepting the role of speaker, especially his pledge to change his registration from Democrat to Independent as a symbol of unity,” editorialized the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rozzi has embarked on what he calls a “listening tour” around the state.  And with the House on pause, the Senate also took a two-week hiatus so the business of the legislature has halted.

Rozzi announced the first of several planned listening tour sessions at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh on Jan 25. He will be joined by members of the bipartisan Speaker’s Workgroup to Move Pennsylvania Forward, a group of six House members convened to create bipartisan operating rules for the House. They are also tasked with breaking partisan gridlock in Harrisburg to swiftly address justice for survivors s of sexual assault, according to Rozzi.

The Speaker and House members will be joined by representatives from interested groups and survivors of childhood sexual assault to discuss how to improve House operations and the importance of providing the opportunity for survivors of childhood sexual assault to get the justice they deserve. The public is invited and can speak during a public comment period at the end of the session.

Marcell is not satisfied with Rozzi’s plans.

“The people of Pennsylvania expect us to act on the important issues of the day: fighting inflation, helping job creators to grow our economy, working to improve schools, and making our communities safer,” Marcell said. “I stand ready and able to work on these and other issues, but Speaker Rozzi’s actions have now paralyzed the House of Representatives when action is needed. He must resign the speakership so that we can begin to move our state forward.”

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Wolf Calls For Special Session to Extend Childhood Sex Assault Victims’ Time to Sue

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.

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