Legal relief for abuse survivors at the top of Democrats’ agenda when the House returns

‘I’m sure that there are going to be other conversations taking place on the top priorities of either chamber,’ Rep. Ryan Bizzarro said

By: - February 8, 2023 5:48 pm

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Monday, April 4, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).

After declaring victory in special elections Tuesday and claiming a majority in the Pennsylvania House, Democrats say their first order of business after reorganizing the chamber will be to vote on legal relief for sexual abuse survivors. 

The Republican-controlled state Senate last month passed a long-awaited bill that would give childhood sexual abuse survivors additional time to sue their attackers in court. 

To the dismay of the proposed constitutional amendment’s author, Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, Senate Republicans packaged the measure with other proposed amendments on voter identification and gave the Legislature power to veto regulations from the executive branch.

A House Democratic spokesperson said Wednesday that House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, plans to call votes on both a standalone version of the survivors’ amendment and a bill to enact a law creating a two-year exception to the statute of limitations that bars many adult abuse survivors from suing.

More than a month after the House’s last voting session day, Rozzi on Tuesday announced the House would return to session on Feb. 21 with more than voting sessions scheduled through the June 30 deadline for the state budget.

With Senate Republicans vowing to block the measure as a standalone amendment, it’s likely that other legislative priorities will come into play as leaders in all four caucuses seek a compromise, Democratic Policy Committee Chairperson Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, said. 

“I’m sure that there are going to be other conversations taking place on the top priorities of either chamber,” Bizzarro said. “I don’t think either chamber is under any illusion that this is going to be easy. We’re going to see just how willing folks are to be bipartisan.”

Democratic leaders were coy about how long Rozzi might lead the House after it returns to session later this month, with Rep. Matt Bradford, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, calling the question an “inside politics game.”

Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, has maintained that she would become speaker when the House returned with a Democratic majority of 102 votes. 

Asked about a possible switch in the speaker’s role after polls closed in the Allegheny County special elections Tuesday, McClinton said the caucus would be in a different position than when Rozzi was elected.

“Please stay tuned to see what the will of this body will be on the date that we return to voting sessions,” McClinton said.

For the average Pennsylvania resident, who serves as speaker is likely of little interest, Bradford said.

“If you can’t afford groceries and don’t have health care, it doesn’t matter to you who is speaker,” Bradford, D-Montgomery, said.

Bradford said the Democratic caucus has always supported Rozzi’s fight, as a survivor of abuse by a priest, to get justice for others who experienced abuse as children that they confronted only years later.

Rozzi was elected in a surprise compromise vote with bipartisan support on Jan. 3 after neither the Republican nor Democratic caucuses were able to muster votes for their choices for speaker. 

In exchange for Republican support, Rozzi promised to lead the House as an independent speaker. But he angered some Republican supporters when he did not change his registration from Democratic to unaffiliated.

Although the results of the special elections are unofficial, and Allegheny County election officials have until Feb. 14 to count military and overseas absentee ballots, the three Democratic candidates outperformed their opponents by broad margins. 

Former legislative staffer and Allegheny County Democratic Committee Chairperson Joe McAndrew, of Penn Hills, received nearly 75% of the vote in the 32nd Legislative District, where the late Rep. Anthony DeLuca was reelected despite dying weeks before the election.

In the 34th District, lawyer and Swissvale borough council member Abigail Salisbury won 87%of the vote to secure the seat formerly held by now-U.S. Rep. Summer Lee. 

And Matthew Gergely of McKeesport won nearly 74% of the vote in the 35th District, where Lt. Gov. Austin Davis was reelected at the same time voters chose him and Gov. Josh Shapiro to lead the executive branch of state government.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.