For the first time since early January, the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives returns to session on Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier today, the Allegheny County Board of Election certified the February 7 special elections, enabling the three victors – Joe McAndrew, Abigail Salisbury and Matthew Gergely – to be sworn in and provide Democrats with a 102-101 member majority in the chamber.
It is the first time since 2010 that the Dems have held majority control in the House.
Now, Speaker of the House Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) has called lawmakers back into session to address just one subject – victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Rozzi, who has shared his story of being abused by a priest as a child, has made justice for survivors a centerpiece of his legislative career. He wants to pass a measure that allows survivors to sue their abusers in a limited window even though the statute of limitations has passed on most cases.
He also wants to pass the measure as a stand-alone bill, in direct opposition to the path the Republican-controlled state Senate has taken.
Last month, the Speaker formed a working group of Democrats and Republicans to craft rules for the House. These rules for the special session are expected to include restricting debate to the topic of child sexual abuse, raising the bar to alter a bill, and concentrating power in the hands of top lawmakers.
According to Spotlight PA, who has viewed a draft of the rules, the proposal would create a single committee made up of both parties’ leaders and Appropriations Committee chairs. Rozzi would pick a fifth member to helm the committee.
The rules would also require support from two-thirds of the chamber to amend a bill, rather than a simple majority.
In the past, measures to open a temporary window for abuse survivors to file civil lawsuits have been successful in the state House. The state Senate has seen things differently.
Senate GOP leaders argue that creating a window through regular legislation signed by the governor is unconstitutional and want to see a constitutional amendment sent to PA voters for their approval.
A similar effort in 2021 was thwarted due to a procedural error in posting the constitutional amendment by former Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.
“Passing multiple constitutional amendments in one bill, which are then presented to voters as separate questions, is not a new concept and has been utilized in prior sessions,” said Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong/Indiana/Jefferson/Westmoreland).
“To say that Pennsylvania politics are exhausting would be a massive understatement,” tweeted Shaun Dougherty, president of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). “Survivors are gearing up again for yet another political fight over childhood sexual abuse. Let’s hope that 2023 is the year that victims finally get their justice here in Pennsylvania.”