On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf called on the General Assembly to convene in special session this week to pass a constitutional amendment to provide a two-year window for lawsuits by child sexual abuse survivors whose statute of limitations has expired.
The House and Senate passed this constitutional amendment last session and if it passes again this session it would go before the voters as a ballot referendum.
A 2018 grand jury report spearheaded by Attorney General (now Gov.-Elect) Josh Shapiro documented abuse in the Catholic Church. The General Assembly responded by passing the proposed constitutional amendment in consecutive sessions and it was slated to go before voters during the 2021 primary, however the Department of State failed to follow public notice requirements, derailing the amendment process and forcing it to restart last session.
The governor’s special session announcement comes just days after the House elected as Speaker state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), a survivor of past sexual abuse and among the most outspoken advocates in the legislature for allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits.
Speaker Rozzi responded to Wolf’s announcement by declaring that the House will take up no other legislation until it passes the bill to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
In a statement, Speaker Rozzi said, “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.”
In response, House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said: “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.”
And in a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) said: “Wolf’s call of a special session a week before his term ends is an attempt by him to prioritize one issue while there are equally important issues that deserve the same consideration among the voters.”
This would be the first special session of the General Assembly since 2010 when then-Gov. Ed Rendell called a special session to confront transportation funding.