Rozzi wants justice for child sex abuse survivors more than Pa. House speakership

Patriot-News - PennLive [Mechanicsburg PA]

February 8, 2023

By Jan Murphy

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mark Rozzi is calling the chamber back into session on Feb. 21 with a plan in mind and a hope for a break in the stalemate that has prevented any legislation moving in Harrisburg.

But the Berks County Democrat said Wednesday he would would rather see adult survivors of child sexual abuse have greater opportunity to sue their abusers than continue to hold the speaker’s gavel.

“That priority is getting victims of childhood sexual assault their day in court to provide them justice, to provide them the truth, to allow them to expose their perpetrator to protect all the children in this commonwealth from ever being sexually abused by their predators ever again,” said Rozzi, who was abused as a child by a Catholic priest.

“I never wanted to be a legislator. I never wanted to be speaker but I’m here right now and my priority still has not changed,” Rozzi told PennLive.

Rozzi said he intends to start the session with the passage of a set of “good government, fair” internal operating rules shaped by a bipartisan work group he put together and a statewide listening tour he led.

Then he will call for votes on the issue that has been his sole priority since being elected to the House’s presiding officer post on Jan. 3.

Rozzi intends to call for a vote on a bill that opens a two-year retroactive window for survivors of childhood sexual assault to file civil lawsuits against their abuser regardless of when the abuse occurred.

Rozzi, a moderate who vowed to work as an independent speaker, also plans to call for a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would accomplish the same thing but would deal exclusively with the statute of limitations issue.

That would differ from the Senate package of three proposed constitutional amendments it passed primarily with Republican votes and sent over to the House in January.

Senate Bill 1 also includes an amendment to require voters to present a valid government-issued ID every time they vote and an amendment that would end the governor’s ability to veto the legislature’s disapproval of a regulation.

Rozzi was highly critical of the Senate Republicans’ strategy of tacking unrelated amendments onto the statute of limitations reform that has idled in the General Assembly for more than 18 years.

“It’s like the only way they know they can get their horrible agenda passed is to strap it on the back of victims, which is horrible and disgraceful and disgusting,” Rozzi said. “Let it stand on its own merit and put it up for a vote for pete’s sake. We’ll see where [Senate Majority Leader] Joe Pittman and [Senate President Pro Tempore] Kim Ward fall.”

Senate Republican spokeswoman Kate Flessner responded by accusing Rozzi of playing political games over the last month instead of organizing the House and engaging in dialogue with the Senate.

“We have fulfilled and completed our commitment to address this issue,” Flessner said. “The speaker should have given voters a voice by passing Senate Bill 1 as presented. Instead the speaker blocked the issue he claims to be his number one priority from consideration by the voters, in favor of partisan political considerations.”

Rozzi also has received strong criticism on several fronts from House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler.

Cutler said Rozzi reneged on a commitment to change his political party affiliation from Democrat to independent or unaffiliated and broke his commitment not to caucus with either Democrats or Republicans by meeting with Democrats after his election as speaker.

Cutler also accused Rozzi of a breach of trust for kicking Cutler’s chief of staff out of an office in the Capitol assigned to the Speaker’s Office.

He also blasted Rozzi for failing to call the House into session so it could organize and get to the business of legislating. Cutler calls it unacceptable for the citizens of Pennsylvania.

“We should be working and he should call us back,” he said even if it means operating under temporary rules.

Republicans have put forth their own set of proposed rules that would strengthen discharge resolutions, require lawmakers to post their legislative expenses online, and create a 13-12 partisan split on committees — rather than a 15-10 split that heavily benefits the majority party.

But instead of trying to working out an agreement on operating rules with caucus leaders through negotiations, Rozzi turned to the public for their input with the listening tour.

“I feel like it’s important that we actually take in what we heard from the people out there and incorporate it and give it a fresh perspective and start true bipartisan work here in Pennsylvania,” Rozzi said. “It won’t be an easy vote but I’m hopeful and looking forward to bringing in a different type of government to our commonwealth.”

Cutler said much of what he heard from those sessions were included in the proposed rules that his caucus shared with Democrats, including more involvement of the minority party.

“It is good to hear the public reinforcing that,” Cutler said.

Rozzi said he will meet with his work group one more time and prepare a set of recommended rules that he expects will be shared prior to the House’s return to session.

Then Rozzi said he will let the chips fall where they may as far as whether he’ll be removed as speaker.

“If that’s what the body would decide to do or maybe there’s another path, I’m not going to stand in the way of what this body wants,” he said.

If Democrats move to elect House Majority Leader Joanna McClinton as speaker so be it. He said he respects McClinton and voted for her to be caucus leader.

“I know that either one of us in there would do a great job for the people of this commonwealth,” Rozzi said. “But my focus is getting these victims of childhood sexual assault the justice they deserve.”

Jan Murphy may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.