Gov. Wolf issues call for PA special session for amendment for childhood abuse victims

WJAC-TV [Jamestown PA]

January 6, 2023

By Tyler Jeski

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has called for a special session of the General Assembly to propose a constitutional amendment that would retroactively extend the timeline for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil actions.

The governor has called for the special session to start on Monday January 9, 2023.

In the proclamation he called for lawmakers to begin the process of passing House Bill 14 for the second time.

The bill would open what’s become known as a two year “window of justice.” It would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their alleged abusers. One example, is it would give victims of sex abuse at the hands of priests the ability to sue the church, event if the statute of limitations had expired.

“For far too many Pennsylvanians, justice and healing for the pain they’ve experienced is out of reach,” said Gov. Wolf in a statement. “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.”

The Governor is urging the General Assembly to pass the measure by Friday January 27, 2023.

READ MORE: Constitutional Amendment supporting childhood sex abuse survivors could be on 2023 ballot

This would give the constitutional amendment enough time to be on the ballot for the May 2023 primary elections. Where the voters would vote on final approval of the amendment.

The governor said it would also give the Department of State enough time to meet the publication guidelines.

In 2022, the constitutional amendment made it through the General Assembly twice, but it never made it to the ballot. That’s because of a mistake made by the Department of State which failed to advertise the proposed amendment.

Newly elected Pennsylvania House Speaker, Rep. Mark Rozzi, applauded the Governor for calling the special session.

Rep. Rozzi, a victim of childhood sex abuse at the hands of a priest, was one of the lawmakers who pushed for the passage of the amendment following the release of a grand jury investigation in 2018.

READ MORE: One year anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Grand Jury report into clergy sex abuse

Rep. Rozzi released a statement saying while he is speaker, the house would not consider any other legislation until that amendment is 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. 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.

House Republican Leader, Rep. Bryan Cutler also responded to the call for a special session in a statement. In it he wrote the House has other work it needs to complete to start working for the people:

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.

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.