As his tenure as Governor of Pennsylvania draws to a close, Tom Wolf issued a proclamation today calling for a special session of the General Assembly.
The session would be held on Monday to propose a constitutional amendment to retroactively extend the timeline for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil actions.
“For far too many Pennsylvanians, justice and healing for the pain they’ve experienced is out of reach,” said Wolf. “This special session is a critical step to allow the General Assembly to focus their work on this important, and potentially life-saving, task. No survivor should be denied the chance to hold their abuser accountable, regardless of how much time has passed.”
“Today, Governor Tom Wolf issued a proclamation ordering a special session of the General Assembly to consider a constitutional amendment providing for relief to survivors of childhood sexual abuse,” said Speaker of the House Mark Rozzi in a statement. “For that, and on behalf of victims throughout the Commonwealth, I say to Governor Wolf: thank you.
“As you know, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I know firsthand the trauma that comes with surviving such a vicious attack. I have childhood friends who initially survived their assault only to succumb to the trauma years later and to take their own lives.
“There is an epidemic of sexual abuse against children in this Commonwealth, throughout this nation, and throughout the world. I came to Harrisburg with one purpose: to see that survivors of childhood sexual assault in Pennsylvania receive the justice that they deserve.”
Wolf is calling on the General Assembly to complete the constitutionally required second passage of last session’s House Bill 14 to ensure that the voters have their say in this May’s election. The process was already restarted when they passed House Bill 14 last session.
His request includes asking the General Assembly to pass the joint resolution no later than Friday, January 27. This very tight schedule can only be accomplished under the specific circumstances of a single, straightforward amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution such as the one under consideration here. This timeframe will ensure the Department of State can meet the publication requirements so that Pennsylvania voters have the opportunity to consider the amendment in May.
“We are on a tight timeline,” said Rozzi. “Pursuant to our constitution, this amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by the first week of February to be placed on the May primary ballot. If we are late, we risk this life saving amendment not being placed on the ballot until the November General Election.
“With that in mind, let me be clear: as long as I am the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the House will consider no other legislation until the General Assembly passes the language of Representative (Jim) Gregory’s constitutional amendment.”
“Since first taking office, I have promised to work to get victims of child sexual abuse the civil justice they have waited for,” said Gregory (R-Blair) in a press release. “Today, together, with my longtime partner on this effort, Speaker Mark Rozzi, we are taking the necessary step to ensure victims don’t have to wait one additional day beyond the May Primary Election to get it,” Gregory said. “I am grateful for Speaker Rozzi’s commitment to correcting the devastating error from two years ago.”
Gregory and Rozzi have been championing reforms in Pennsylvania since a 2018 grand jury report revealed widespread abuse by Catholic priests living and working in the state.
“My friends, it is now 2023,” stated Rozzi. “We’ve talked the talk – now it’s time to walk the walk, together, one last time, for the victims of childhood sexual abuse.”
“Now is the time to stand together and send a clear message: childhood sexual abuse will not be tolerated in our commonwealth and survivors will have the support they need to find justice,” added Wolf.
“Survivors of child sexual abuse have had to wait too long for their opportunity for justice,” said Nicole Riegelman, press secretary to Democratic House Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia). “This special session is consistent with the pledge made by legislative leaders in August to prioritize this bill in the 2023/24 legislative session, and the House Democratic Caucus applauds Gov. Wolf and Speaker Rozzi for ensuring that this overdue measure receives swift action so that it can be put before the voters in May.”
“It is understandable that Gov. Wolf would want to call for this special session as soon as possible given the election of Pennsylvania’s first Independent speaker of the House and the governor’s desire to make up the Department of State’s failures that led to justice being delayed to many survivors of child sexual abuse,” said Republican leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) in a statement.
“However, it is not in the best interest of the Commonwealth to do this work in special session, where we are required to only work on a single issue. Passing this Constitutional amendment was something we have done easily in the past and have already committed to running this session. We can do this work in regular session, while also addressing other urgent needs the people of Pennsylvania expect us to address in a timely manner.
According to the Pennsylvania Code, special sessions may be called by the Governor whenever in his opinion the public interest requires. No legislation may be considered during a special session upon subjects other than those designated in the proclamation of the Governor calling such session. However, the General Assembly may consider matters relating to such subjects and may propose amendments to the Constitution.
A constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballots for the May 16, 2023 primary.