The Listening Tour: Opening Night

Mark Rozzi

It was Opening Night for “The Listening Tour” as Mark Rozzi’s (D-Berks) caravan rolled into Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

The Speaker of the House initiated the tour in hopes that “meeting directly with the people of Pennsylvania and interested organizations will yield solutions to partisan gridlock and give a path forward for the House to finally provide justice to survivors of childhood sexual abuse.”

The chamber has been unable to reach agreement to the rules governing a special session called by former Gov. Tom Wolf earlier in the month.

“I pledged to be an independent Speaker of the House and I will be an independent Speaker of the House,” said Rozzi when the tour was announced. “To help us break this gridlock, I have decided to seek the counsel of those most often neglected: the people of Pennsylvania.”

He formed the Speaker’s Workgroup To Move Pennsylvania Forward and selected a bipartisan panel of six representatives  – Republicans Paul Schemel (R-Franklin), Jason Ortitay (R-Allegheny) and Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), along with Democrats Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia), Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) and Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery).

None of the three Democrats were present at last night’s meeting, although their residence in the eastern part of the Commonwealth may have played a factor.

The trio did release a statement on Tuesday afternoon, stating “This bipartisan workgroup is committed to prioritizing seeking justice for child sexual abuse survivors and drafting appropriate operating rules for the Special Session and regular session.

“The workgroup members have met frequently with serious and honest conversations, but we have not yet agreed to, and should not agree to, anything until we have public input.”

More than 80 people turned out for the Opening Night session at Carnegie Mellon University that lasted about 90 minutes.

In a twist, Rozzi allowed the general public to take to the microphone first, followed by interest group representatives.

The interest groups included a number of good government advocates like Fix Harrisburg and CeaseFirePA, asking that House leaders commit to passing bipartisan rule changes and gun control measures. Other groups included Common Cause PA and the Commonwealth Foundation.

Rozzi pledged to keep the doors to the state House locked until compromise is reached on the rules and a promise secured to pass a constitutional amendment to allow adults who suffered childhood sexual abuse to file civil suits in a two-year window.

“If it gets on the ballot, it’s going to be on the ballot by itself, not with these other constitutional amendments,” Rozzi said of the window for litigation. A longtime advocate for the idea, he has told of being raped by a Catholic priest when he was 13.

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) replied to Rozzi’s locked-door comment in a letter to the Speaker that read, “While you continue the work of your listening tour, I am requesting that you open the doors of the Hall of the House again. This building belongs to the people of Pennsylvania, and they have a right, along with our members, to the openness and transparency that you promised each of us.’

Most residents who spoke out encouraged more bipartisan cooperation and making the legislative process more transparent.

“Right now our representatives can’t represent us because the body’s rules are used not to foster deliberations and debate, but to delay and obstruct,” said Doug Webster of Monroeville.

Some of the most passionate remarks came from adult survivors of childhood sexual assault.

Shaun Dougherty, the board president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and a Pennsylvania resident, said, “We are exhausted, and we are angry. Why are child sex abuse survivors being used as a political beach ball?”

Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver/Washington), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, said the listening session shows the hypocrisy of the speaker and Democrats generally.

“I want to thank the Republican members of the rules working group for attending the listening session and hearing input from the public when no Democrat in the group other than the speaker himself decided to show up,” Kail said. “It is hypocritical of the Democrats on the committee, and in the caucus generally, to say that hearing from Pennsylvanians is important before moving forward, while at the same time refusing to actually show up to listen.

“The answer is clear: It is time for the speaker and his Democratic colleagues to stop the obstruction and clear the legislative choke points. They need to join us in returning to Harrisburg to organize and allow us to vote on issues of critical importance to Pennsylvanians.”

The listening tour heads east to Philadelphia for a Friday session at 6 p.m. at St. Joseph’s University. Another session is set for Wilkes-Barre on an undetermined date.


  • Who Will Be Speaker of the PA House on February 28?

    • Joanna McClinton (68%)
    • Mark Rozzi (27%)
    • A Republican TBD (5%)

    Total Voters: 315

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