The power of the majority shone through on day one of the Pennsylvania House’s Special Session.
In a series of votes that finished 102-99, Democrats were able to pass rules governing the special session of the chamber to address “Providing Justice To Otherwise Barred Victims Of Childhood Sexual Abuse.”
The 57-page rule proposal outlined 79 different rules governing the session and was adopted by a three-vote Democratic majority, despite a number of legislative efforts by Republicans to derail the effort.
With the swearing-in of new Democratic representatives Joe McAndrew, Abigail Salisbury and Matthew Gergely, Democrats held a slender 102-101 advantage in the House. Two Republicans were granted leaves for the day – Brad Roae (R-Crawford/Erie) and Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny) – leaving the edge at three members for the majority.
Prior to the lengthy acrobatics, both leaders of their respective delegations had words for the newest members of the chamber.
“Enjoy this place and enjoy the moment. You are now part of our commonwealth’s legacy,” House Majority Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) said. “In the coming months, you’re going to spend a lot of hours in this Capitol.”
“It’s a beautiful place to work. But I also encourage you to get to know the people,” said House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “It is within those conversations and relationship you will find commonality.”
Then came the fireworks.
“The rules we’re presented with today are intended to freeze the minority, to freeze 101 voices – that is 65,000 people per 101 voices – from ever being heard in this chamber,” said Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin).
Cutler added, “We frequently heard, both in my time in the leaders spot as well as the speaker spot previously, that the majority will have their way and the minority will get to have their say. Mr. Speaker, this is the exact opposite.”
“Overwhelmingly, at the public hearings, what we heard over, and over, and over again, is it is time for this chamber to finally deliver justice for victims of juveniles sexual assault,” said Rep. Peter Schweyer (R-Lehigh).
“I’m hearing a lot of conversations about victims, and I’d like to … say what’s not fair is that we’ve not addressed the victims for over a decade of the sexual assault statute of limitations bill,” added Rep. Maureen Madden (D-Monroe). “That is what is unfair.”
Time and time again, the Speaker had to remind members that these rules would only govern the special session – not the remainder of the 2023-24 session.
Finally, after three hours of heated debate, the rules for the special session were adopted by a 102-99 vote. With the passage of the rules, a five-member “Committee to Provide Justice to Otherwise Barred Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse” was established.
Named to the committee were Reps. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery), Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery), and Seth Grove (R-York), along with McClinton and Cutler.