Pa. House Speaker Rozzi headed for clash with Senate Republicans on abuse survivors’ bill

‘I believe the only path to resolve the speaker’s top priority is for the House to pass Senate Bill 1 as presented,’ Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman said

By: and - February 20, 2023 7:14 am

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, speaks before signing a package of three bills, which mirror three of the Grand Jury’s recommendations on addressing the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse, inside Muhlenberg High School on Tuesday, November 26, 2019 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will return to session on Tuesday with a Democratic majority and a speaker with a single-minded dedication to providing legal recourse for victims of childhood sexual abuse that he and others have sought for nearly two decades. 

But the standalone legislation Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, intends to pass is at odds with legislation passed by state Senate Republicans, who staunchly insist on tying the relief for abuse survivors to other GOP legislative priorities.

After a nearly-two-month hiatus for special elections to fill three vacant seats and work on breaking a stalemate over rules, the House will pick up its reorganization where it left off on swearing-in day on Jan. 3.

Relief for child sex abuse survivors passes Senate as part of constitutional amendment package

Once the House approves operating rules that will enable it to consider additional legislation, Rozzi has said his No. 1 priority is passing a two-year window to let survivors of childhood sexual abuse sue their abusers — and the institutions that helped cover up abuse — in civil court.

When he was elected speaker, Rozzi said the proposal would come before any other bill. Rozzi and Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, who are both survivors of sexual abuse, drafted the legislation and have said they prefer voting on it as a standalone bill.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved a constitutional amendment package, Senate Bill 1, that included the two-year window. 

Despite pushback from advocates and the majority of Democrats in the upper chamber, the legislation also included provisions for voter identification and expanded legislative authority over state regulations.

Through a spokesperson, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, told the Capital-Star that the upper chamber fulfilled its commitment to passing the two-year window.

“I believe the only path to resolve the speaker’s top priority is for the House to pass Senate Bill 1 as presented,” Pittman said.

In his remarks before the Senate approved the proposal in January, Pittman said it would be the “final time” the chamber addressed the issue.

“There is no reason for the House of Representatives to reject Senate Bill 1 — unless whoever is running the House of Representatives seems to think there’s a political reason that two of the three questions should not be put before voters,” he said.

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, said there’s no good political, policy, or moral reason to tie the abuse survivors’ legislation to any other bill.

“We need to do right by the victims and I don’t understand why anybody would commit to standing in the way of folks who have been traumatized and victimized from getting justice,” Kenyatta said.

The survivors’ amendment passed in both chambers last session with bipartisan support, Kenyatta said, and to make its passage in the new session conditional, is holding it hostage.

“Whatever bill we send, I would hope that they will allow us to do what should have been done a long time ago and begin another step in their healing,” Kenyatta said.

The lack of organization in the House is just the latest roadblock to possible relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, following years of reluctance, a failure by the Wolf administration to advertise amendment language in time for the May 2021 primary election, and a refusal by a Senate Republicans to open a statutory window through legislation.

“In Pennsylvania, there just seems to be a knack for traumatizing and re-traumatizing victims again and again,” Marci Hamilton, of the nonprofit think-tank CHILD USA, told the Capital-Star in January. “This was a moment when it looked like Pennsylvania was finally going to do the right thing.”

Hamilton has spent nearly two decades advocating for statute of limitations reform in Pennsylvania and nationwide, saying that limited timeframes and institutional protections make it harder for survivors to seek justice.

“This is hard; this is triggering. Is this ever going to end?” Hamilton said earlier this year, recounting reactions from survivors.

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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.

Marley Parish

Marley Parish covered the Senate for the Capital-Star.