HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Governor Tom Wolf today announced that Pennsylvania legislative leaders have agreed to “prioritize” a constitutional amendment early next legislative session (2023-24) that would open a two-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits.
In 2021, the General Assembly approved a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide for a two-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file previously time-barred claims.
Due to an error to advertise the proposed amendment, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar resigned in February 2021.
Constitutional amendments must be approved during two consecutive legislative sessions before being put on the ballot, so the constitutional amendment could be on the ballot for the voters to decide on May 16, 2023.
The Governor’s office says lawmakers agreed a constitutional amendment was the best path forward after attempting a “more direct legislative path.”
“I want to first reiterate my deep regret and sincerest apologies to victims for the process error that prevented this issue from being decided upon by the voters this legislative session. I have fought for an immediate legislative solution to this issue and have been working with legislators to determine the clearest path forward,” Gov. Wolf said. “After speaking directly with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle, I’m pleased that they have committed to prioritize second passage of a constitutional amendment early next session. I am grateful for this agreement so that survivors can seek a path forward toward justice.”
State Representative Jim Gregory is one of those victims who was abused as a young boy by a priest. His bill would change the state constitution to open a two year window allowing survivors to sue their abuser after the statute of limitations has expired.
“We gotta make sure we get this done the right way for victims who have every right and reason to be skeptical,” said Rep. Gregory (R-Blair). “This is just another way of letting those victims know that everyone is rolling in the right direction the same direction to make sure, one, that mistake never happens again, and we make it right for them because what happened should have never happened.”
“Without question, all victims of childhood sexual abuse should have the ability to face their abusers. As I have consistently stated, the constitutional amendment is the strongest legal position to bring closure to this matter for all victims (public and private),” said Senate Republican Leader Ward. “Remaining true to our commitment, we plan to take the next step in the constitutional amendment process in the next legislative session, just as we have in previous legislative sessions, and consistent with the multiple legislative actions already taken to protect children and families from such heinous acts.”
“The Pennsylvania House has taken up and passed this proposed constitutional amendment in three different legislative sessions,” said House Republican Leader Benninghoff. “Next session we will once again remind our caucus of the unique circumstances that lead to the fourth consideration of this constitutional amendment and the need to continue to lead on an issue so important to many victims and families across Pennsylvania.”
“Survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve the opportunity to seek justice and the Senate Democratic caucus is ready to ensure this happens through a constitutional amendment,” said Senate Democratic Leader Costa. “This commitment is a positive step and I am committed to making it a priority early next year.”
“Victims deserve justice, and I’m confident Pennsylvanians will deliver justice when this question is put to the voters as a constitutional amendment,” said Democratic House Leader McClinton. “Our caucus has stood alongside Representative Rozzi as he has tirelessly advocated for this measure, and we’ll continue to stand with the victims of abuse until they get the opportunity they deserve. This will be a priority for us when the legislature convenes for a new session in January.”
The governor thanked Representatives Rozzi and Gregory, both survivors of childhood sexual abuse, for their passionate leadership and advocacy on behalf of Pennsylvania survivors.
“Victims and survivors alike deserve their day in court and they certainly deserve to know the truth, whether it is about their perpetrator or the institution that aided and abetted these heinous crimes,” Rep. Rozzi said. “There must be accountability for the reprehensible murder of each child’s soul.”
“As we approach the two-year mark of victims having to wait again to pass this constitutional amendment, I am pleased that this legislation has not been forgotten by my colleagues in leadership,” Rep. Gregory said. “For me, the victims waiting two more years haven’t been forgotten for one day. The commitment to get it on the ballot next spring is a must.”
The governor also thanked Senate and House Judiciary Committee Chairs Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming) and Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) and Representatives Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) and Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery) for their efforts to prioritize this issue in their committees.
“My personal commitment to survivors is to push through the constitutional amendment as soon as possible in the new session,” Sen. Baker said. “Further, because the outcome of a referendum on an amendment is never certain, I will also introduce legislation to make the change statutorily, if necessary.”
“We must continue to support the courageous survivors who have fought for justice, and this commitment to moving forward through a constitutional amendment is good progress,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “This must be a top priority for all of us as a legislature when we return to a new legislative session in January.”