Pa. lawmakers have days to assist baby intercourse abuse survivors after Wolf staff’s blunder | John Baer
Pennsylvania lawmakers must correct the tremendous injustice the state government has inflicted on child sexual abuse survivors.
This injustice dates back decades when lawmakers kept survivors at a distance and often offered bitter neglect.
It is now also a failure of the Wolf government to address a May 18 primary election question that provided survivors with a new bridge to justice.
The administration, particularly the State Department overseeing the elections, has broken that bridge by failing to properly promote the issue, a routine requirement for all voting.
Because of the inability, the question of whether to amend the constitution so that survivors have a two-year window to sue their predators, even if statute-of-limitations have expired, may not be presented to voters this year or next.
Unless. Unless the legislature declares its willingness to act, as rarely, in the interests of harmed persons and not in the interests of institutions.
You can get the question back on the ballot through an underutilized emergency amendment procedure that requires two-thirds of the House and Senate approval.
The normal change process takes years, and the House and Senate are passed in two consecutive two-year sessions.
That process should be completed last month just as the government announced it (choose your sports metaphor).
The emergency move is backed by Governor Tom Wolf, who clearly wants the issue fixed as his team screwed it up. And since the legislature has already voted in favor of the question for over two years, it should do so again.
But time is running out to vote May 18th.
In a letter to the legislature, Wolf stated that the question about postal voting and postal voting overseas must be answered by March 24th.
(The advertising requirements for emergency dialing questions are less stringent.)
This gives lawmakers just a few days to act: six in the House of Representatives, five in the Senate, according to their respective strict calendars.
However, if members vote for the emergency question the same number as they voted for the original question, the two-thirds threshold could be reached.
The house management has approved a vote. The Senate, already historically reluctant to support retroactive civil actions, I have been told has several members who have not been sold through the emergency route.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward says only that the Senate is in “discussions about how best to address this failure of the Pennsylvania State Department”.
The chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, calls the emergency measure “a viable option” and hopes to push it forward as early as Monday.
Of course there is friction. Does the measure comply with the constitutional definition of emergency as protecting the “security or well-being” of the state? Some say no. Others say an emergency is something two-thirds of lawmakers say.
Meanwhile, Berks County Democratic MP Mark Rozzi and Blair County Republican MP Jim Gregory, both child sexual abuse survivors and aggressive advocates of the proposed change, are pushing for passage, followed by a constitutionality test case.
Gregory says to me, “We’re going to find a missile file asking the (state) Supreme Court to rule before elementary school.”
Maybe it all comes together. Maybe not.
But it should. Notably in a state where a 2018 grand jury found credible evidence of more than 1,000 children sexually abused over decades by hundreds of Catholic clergy in six of the state’s eight dioceses, followed by a cover-up.
Since then, the legislature has ended the statute of limitations (SOL) for criminal charges and expanded the SOL for civil law claims of future survivors.
But it didn’t open a window. It’s time to do so and allow adult adults to file civil suits like 18 other states are doing, including New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.
It gives those who are abused by predators – in clubs, schools, scouts, any organization, not just the Catholic Church – an opportunity to fall back on justice.
A key player in this long drama once told me that “windows of resuscitation” for sexual abuse in the political world are not a “needle maker”: it affects too few individuals and too many institutions.
That is a solid self-blame from the political world.
But this world often has the ability to do the right thing, whether or not it moves its own needle. This is one of those ways.
The botching of the state on this issue amounts to revitalization. It should be corrected – now.
John Baer can be reached at email@example.com.
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