Low blow by PA lawmakers: Playing politics with kids abused by clergy, harmed by polluters

York Daily Record [York, PA]

January 17, 2023

By Mitchell Hescox

In what only can be described as a low blow (or, more likely, an immoral partisan backroom deal), the Pennsylvania State Legislature seems prepared to use the constitutional amendment dubbed “Marsy’s Law” — meant to guarantee the rights of crime victims’ rights — to also move two other highly contentious amendments related to voter identification and regulatory review. Even my hometown Blair County Republican Representative Jim Gregory said, “What they’re trying to do, in my opinion, is use victims as pawns in a political game, and I’m not going to play that.”

Pennsylvania’s Marsy’s Law Amendment, named after a California college student who was murdered, provides a two-year window for childhood sexual abuse victims to seek recourse even if a statute of limitations exists. Pennsylvania voters overwhelming supported an earlier version of this constitutional amendment in 2019, only for it to be ruled as too broad by a 6-1 PA Supreme Court decision.

Yet, bundling these three unrelated amendments threatens to forestall the implementation of Marsy’s Law yet again by potentially running afoul of the legal requirements for passing amendments unchanged for two consecutive years. This unneeded complication may continue to prevent justice for so many victims. The right and moral thing to do is pass the victims’ rights amendment as a stand-alone bill, as House Speaker Mark Rozzi has suggested. It’s also what the Bible commands in Micah 6:8 (NIV).

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Acting justly and loving mercy demands that the legislature take up the victims’ rights amendment as a stand-alone bill, thereby avoiding any legal murkiness and simply doing the right thing. Justice would also be better served if the legislature were also concerned for the children whose lives are threatened by pollution rather than using one victim to deny another.

As a pro-life evangelical, I have a special concern for the unborn. All of us should want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution even before they take their first breath. The medical community has long known that unborn children are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts. Of these impacts, fossil fuels are the most serious threat to children’s health worldwide.

This dirty trick of putting the three constitutional amendments in one bill (SB1) is simply another move by the friends of fossil fuels in the legislature to deny rights to our kids who are threatened by pollution. As just one example: 202,388 Pennsylvania children attend school within 0.5 miles of an oil or gas facility. The medical and scientific literature is clear – living within 0.5 miles of a methane extraction or production site harms our children, and newer research suggests that even those living within a 5-mile radius may also be at risk. Peer reviewed medical studies show that those living near methane development face a 25% increase in low-birth-weight infants; significant reductions in infant health; increased brain, spine, or spinal cord birth defects; increased congenital heart defects; and up to a 25% increase in childhood asthma.

If you believe that the General Assembly won’t use the regulatory review amendment to aid their friends, consider what happened in the July 2022 budget process. The Republican-led General Assembly held up budget negotiations to secure a massive win for oil and gas. For budget passage, they demanded and received ridiculous limits for well bonding — that is, how much money companies pay up front to ensure the land where they drill is later restored. Instead of holding industry to a fair and just bond to ensure these operators do the right thing, the General Assembly set the maximum bond at $2,500 per well. That’s only 3.2% of the average cost ($78,000) of fixing the wells. So, thanks to the legislature, these wells will continue to spread toxins into our air and water in perpetuity—further threating our children. While you can’t put a price on health, the legislature gave the oil/gas industry over $38 million for their failure to plug and remediate the 490 wells they walked away from in 2022, leaving us the mess and the cost.

It’s time for the legislature to stop pitting victims against other victims, and to stop playing partisan games over what should simply be the moral and just thing to do. God demands justice for sexual assault victims, and he demands that we defend our kids from fossil fuel pollution as well. It’s simply the right and moral thing to do.

Mitchell C. Hescox is president/CEO of Evangelical Environmental Network, based in New Freedom.