Mark Rozzi, sex abuse survivor and victim advocate, leaving Pa. House at year’s end

Meadville Tribune [Meadville PA]

February 3, 2024

By Eric Scicchitano

A Pennsylvania state representative who went public with his own experience as a sexual abuse survivor to champion causes in support of others like him is leaving politics.

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, on Wednesday formally endorsed his one-time primary election opponent for the Office of Auditor General, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia.

“This is going to be my last term, and after I’m done here, I’m moving forward and I’m turning the page to the next part of my life,” Rozzi said at press conference outside Reading High School before giving his full endorsement to his Democratic colleague.

Rozzi ended his own campaign for the statewide office. He previously said he wouldn’t seek reelection to the House and instead lent his support to his ex-wife, Jacklyn Rusnock, who’s courting the Democratic nomination for the 126th District.

The state Democratic Party previously voted to support Kenyatta in the spring primary. Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley is also seeking the party’s nomination. They’ll look to replace Republican Tim DeFoor who’s seeking reelection in the fall.

Rozzi’s intentions for his immediate future are deeply personal. He said he’s working to improve his own mental health.

In an emotional interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Rozzi spoke of the depression he’s suffering, reiterating how it stems from sexual abuse inflicted by a Catholic priest when he was a boy, and how he’s become disillusioned with state politics.

“The only thing I can see is what’s in front of me right now: to heal Mark,” Rozzi told the Inquirer. “I will be good to nobody if I don’t put myself first right now and just focus on my health.”

Rozzi, who briefly became House speaker in early 2023, said he’ll continue work this year to pass reforms aiding abuse survivors like himself. The main proposals are a constitutional amendment and a formal statute.

Both seek the same outcome — to temporarily lift the statute of limitations for two years and allow survivors to file civil lawsuits against alleged perpetrators and enablers.

The statute passed the House and is stalled in the Senate. Its final passage seems unlikely. The prospects for the amendment proposal are seemingly better though complicated.

Proposed amendments must pass through both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in consecutive two-year sessions before they can be put to the ballot and considered by voters statewide. Lawmakers cleared the proposal as a standalone measure last session. This session, it’s been met with political maneuvering.

Republicans hold the majority in the Senate. They included the measure in a package of five proposed amendments including expanding voter ID. House Democrats used their voting majority to strip it down to the single issue. Because it was amended it needs the reauthorization of the Senate. Republican leaders have only reinforced their position that it’s a package deal.

Compromise is necessary by late summer, allowing time to meet legal advertising requirements on the ballot question — an issue that sunk a prior effort after the legislative hurdles were cleared — or the years-long process would restart.