The statute of limitations for civil sexual assault cases is up for debate again in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives—or it is supposed to be, in any case. However, like many things in government, politics is interfering with a process that was originally expected to be bipartisan.
A Proposed Amendment
A bipartisan group of lawmakers recently proposed a new amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Called the Window of Opportunity legislation, the new law, which is supported by Governor Wolf and has passed the house, stalled in the Pennsylvania senate. The promise of bipartisan support after the start of the special session appears to have waned despite Governor Wolf’s order for both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature to focus on passing a proposed constitutional amendment that provides child sex crime survivors the opportunity to seek justice regardless of age.
A Problematic Timeline
Unfortunately, the window for proposing a new amendment that could be voted on this year is closing quickly. Proposed amendments were required to pass both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly by January 27 to be sent to a popular vote during the upcoming primary election.
The legislature wasn’t in session in early January when this amendment was proposed. To solve the problem, Governor Tom Wolf ordered a special session to pass the amendment as one of his last actions in office.
Another Problem and an Unexpected Solution
However, there was another problem. Due to unusual circumstances, it wasn’t clear who was the House speaker. Democrats won more seats than Republicans in the election. But due to resignations and the death of a lawmaker, Republicans currently hold the advantage and will hold it until later this spring.
This unique situation is being fought in the courts and does not seem likely to be resolved anytime soon.
However, Republican lawmaker Jim Gregory, one of the authors of this amendment, unexpectedly nominated Democrat Mark Rozzi to the position of House speaker. And surprisingly, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted him into the position.
As part of this unusual deal, Rozzi agreed to hold up all other House business until this amendment was passed.
All Business Held Up
Unfortunately, the plan did not go as expected. The special session only succeeded in one thing: creating a six-person committee, half Democrat and half Republican, that was tasked with finding a bipartisan way to move forward with this legislation. Unfortunately, the committee made no progress.
The main problem was that legislators in the House, primarily Republicans, were attempting to tack on amendments involving other topics to this legislation. These lawmakers wanted to introduce amendments dealing with election rules and regulatory reform.
Since these topics were not in line with the purpose of the special session, Rozzi blocked them and canceled sessions. The result was a stalemate that is unlikely to be resolved before the deadline.
Pennsylvania Senate Complicating Things
This situation has been even further complicated by legislation in the Pennsylvania State Senate. That chamber approved legislation that would add this amendment and two other amendments to the state constitution.
The two additional amendments, if passed by popular vote, would require IDs to vote in elections and would limit the veto power of the governor concerning regulations. This is a different version of the bill than the one Gregory proposed, so even if legislators agree to a clean bill, it would still need to go back to the Senate.
Little Chance of Ending the Stalemate
Both sides in this debate have dug in and don’t seem willing to give ground. While all sides seem to agree that child abuse victims should be given an extension of the statute of limitations, there is no compromise on the other issues.
Most Republicans insist that other amendments must be bundled with this one, while most Democrats refuse to agree to this proposal. The promise of bipartisanship seems long dead.
Time seems to have run out to pass that bill in order for it to be on the May primary ballot for voters to consider, though it could still be passed in time to be on the ballot in November.
Gregory, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, is determined to see this bill through. He is fighting to get enough votes for the amendment to pass without any add-ons. To further this agenda, he has also introduced this amendment during the regular session, and Rozzi has vowed to continue to hold up business until it passes.
The stalled legislation has its best chance to move forward now. That is when special elections are scheduled to be held for the remaining unfilled seats. All three seats are in districts where Democrats are almost certain to win, which means Democrats should have full control of the chamber again after that election.
Of course, even if this amendment passes the House without any add-ons, it still needs to pass the state senate.
What It Will Mean if This Legislation Passes
Assuming the improbable occurs and this legislation passes both chambers, that doesn’t mean it will become law. This legislation is an attempt to amend the state constitution, which can be done only by a vote of the people.
If the proposed legislation passes, the amendment will be put on the ballot during the May primary election. Any citizen of Pennsylvania can then vote for or against the legislation even if they aren’t eligible to vote in the partisan primaries due to their party affiliation.
However, if the legislation eventually passes at some point, it likely can’t be put on the May ballot. Instead, it will be placed on a later ballot, possibly in November. Besides the date, nothing else about it would change.
In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments require a simple majority of votes to pass or fail. In most cases, if a constitutional amendment reaches the ballot in Pennsylvania, it passes. And this one is likely to be no different.
If this legislation is approved, victims of childhood sexual abuse will be granted the right to file lawsuits against their abusers, even if the previous statute of limitation has expired.
How You Can Take Action
If you are one of those victims, speak to a personal injury attorney to learn about your options. To get started, you can contact Morgan & Morgan for a free, confidential, no-obligation case evaluation. Attorney Alan Borowsky, Esq. has been fighting for victims of childhood sex abuse for over a decade, as both a Special Victims Unit criminal prosecutor and civil litigator, and is ready to help you.
You can also find your representative in the General Assembly, reach out to them, and demand reform and justice for these victims.