Editorial: Pennsylvania Senate must stand up for victims of abuse
Getting just about any piece of substantial legislation passed in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is likely to be a roller coaster ride for the lawmakers and activists who support it. That’s just the nature of the institution.
But it’s hard to imagine anyone having a rougher ride than state Rep. Mark Rozzi and his allies trying to expand legal rights for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat, has been working on this issue ever since entering the Legislature eight years ago. His passion for addressing the issue is motivated by his own childhood experience being raped by a priest and further fueled by so many other harrowing stories shared by fellow abuse survivors.
Now once again lawmakers are ever so close to passing a bill that would establish a window for people sexually abused as children to file civil claims against those responsible. The House has passed legislation by an overwhelming 149-52 vote. If the Senate follows suit, it would be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf. If the governor signs it, the measure finally will become law.
It’s an all too familiar situation for Rozzi and those who agree with him on the issue. Time and time again the House has passed legislation on the issue by comfortable margins, only to meet resistance in the Senate.
We urge Senate leaders to allow the bill to come up for a vote as soon as possible, and for lawmakers in that body to follow the lead of their House colleagues and send it to the governor. Whether or not that will happen remains a mystery. The Republicans who control the Senate have not indicated what their plans are, though a statement by a spokeswoman suggested Rozzi’s bill would not be the top priority as senators return to session this week.
It’s a tragedy that we’ve returned to this point. Last year it seemed as though the issue had finally been settled with a compromise between Rozzi and Republican legislative leaders. They agreed to adopt a state constitutional amendment that would open a two-year window for litigation by abuse survivors who have aged out of the statute of limitations.
Such amendments must gain passage by both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum. This amendment was supposed to be on ballots throughout Pennsylvania this spring.
But a mistake by the Pennsylvania Department of State threw the process off track. The department failed to advertise the proposed amendment as required. The amendment had to start the process all over again. The earliest it could be put before voters would be in 2023.
Characteristically, Rozzi rebounded from the tremendous disappointment and got back to work. He and his allies are using a two-pronged approach, pushing for statutory legislation now while continuing to back the constitutional amendment.
Rozzi said this approach offers the potential for a speedy resolution via legislation coupled by the solid legal foundation an amendment could provide in the face of nearly inevitable legal challenges.
The legislator promised to work around the clock to persuade senators to back his cause.
"It's time we move forward on this," he said. "These survivors should not have to wait a minute longer to get the justice they rightfully deserve."
Rozzi believes the bill has enough support in the Senate to pass, but its fate depends on whether President Pro Tempore Jake Corman gives them a chance to vote on it.
We urge Corman to do the right thing, giving some hope to people who so desperately need it.
As Rozzi said, this is about more than getting justice for those who have been abused in the past. It's about preventing future generations of children from being abused by exposing predators who have yet to be unmasked.
We agree. Lawmakers must not miss yet another opportunity to give victims a chance to be heard and compensated and to potentially stop future tragedies.
It’s time to get this measure off the roller coaster and on to solid ground.