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January 09, 2023

Pennsylvania lawmakers hold special session to consider constitutional amendment for child sex abuse victims

Gov. Tom Wolf has urged legislators to pass the measure in time for it to appear on the primary ballot

Government Child Abuse
PA Constitutional Amendment The Office of Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

The Pennsylvania legislature is holding a special session to consider a constitutional amendment that would allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, against their abusers, that otherwise would be barred by the statute of limitations.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are meeting Monday to consider a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would create a two-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, against their abusers, that otherwise would be barred by the statute of limitations. 

Gov. Tom Wolf has called a special session and urged lawmakers to pass the proposed amendment, for a second straight session, by Jan. 27 so that it can be included as a voter referendum on the May 16 primary ballot.

"For far too many Pennsylvanians, justice and healing for the pain they've experienced is out of reach," Wolf said Friday. "This special session is a critical step to allow for 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." 

On Friday, House Speaker Mark Rozzi said he would halt all other actions in the chamber until the amendment has been passed, WHYY reported. Rozzi, a former Democrat who became the state's first independent speaker earlier this month, has become a champion for childhood sexual abuse victims. He previously has shared his own story of childhood abuse by a priest in Berks County. 

The constitutional amendment was first introduced in 2019 as one of many responses to an expansive grand jury report that accused more than 300 Pennsylvania priests of child sexual abuse. Grand jurors investigated thousands of allegations of child abuse by clergy in six Pennsylvania dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. 

The amendment was on track to be put on the ballot during the May 2021 primary election, having passed consecutive legislative sessions. But the Department of State failed to fulfill its obligation to advertise the proposed amendment, and the process needed to be repeated. 

Rep. Jim Gregory, a Republican serving portions of Huntingdon and Blair counties, reintroduced the measure as a way to restart the process. It passed in the General Assembly in 2021, setting it up for a second passage before appearing as a ballot referendum. 

The amendment has broad bipartisan support and is expected to pass. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle vowed last year to prioritize it. Still, Republican leaders preferred to vote on the amendment during a regular session, when more than one legislative item can be considered at a time, Spotlight PA reported.

"It is imperative that we work together to ensure constitutional amendments for voter identification, legislative review of regulations, election audits, and statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors can all be presented to voters," top Senate Republicans Joe Pittman and Kim Ward said in a joint statement.