Our hearts go out to state Rep. Mark Rozzi and his fellow victims of sexual abuse as children for a disastrous development in their effort to seek justice.
For seven years, the Muhlenberg Township Democrat has been fighting an uphill battle in Harrisburg to enact legislation that would allow people sexually abused as children to sue those responsible.
After several attempts that came ever so close to passage before falling short, Rozzi reached a compromise with Republican legislative leaders.
They agreed to adopt a state constitutional amendment that would open a two-year window for litigation by abuse survivors who have aged out of the statute of limitations.
The downside of a constitutional amendment as opposed to normal legislation is that it takes longer to achieve.
Amendments must gain passage by both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
This amendment was making its way through the process and was supposed to be on ballots throughout Pennsylvania this spring.
But on Monday, news broke that the Pennsylvania Department of State discovered a mistake that has thrown the entire process off track. The department did not advertise, as required, the proposed amendment. Other proposed amendments did get advertised, but this one fell through the cracks.
An agency spokeswoman, in a statement of regret, blamed it on simple human error.
Needless to say, this was inexcusable, and it’s only right that Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar leave her post in response to the colossal error.
It’s ironic that Boockvar managed to endure months as a lightning rod for controversy due to disputes over the 2020 election but wound up losing her job over an unrelated problem. People do make mistakes, but it’s up to management to make sure systems are in place to ensure they get caught in time to prevent disasters such as this. Boockvar had to go.
Gov. Tom Wolf was right to issue his own apology, as this happened under his administration. He called on activists to keep up their fight. The governor should be right there on the front lines with them, pushing for a swift remedy.
Because of the error, the amendment process has to begin anew, and the earliest it could appear on the ballot now would be spring 2023. Making victims wait that long would only compound the tragedy they’ve endured for so many years and even decades.
Wolf should fight hard for renewed consideration of Rozzi’s original legislation that opens the litigation window without amending the Constitution. Rozzi and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro are advocating that course of action and insist that it would pass legal muster.
“We can still get this done,” Rozzi told the Reading Eagle.
“There is still a solution here, but the question remains whether my colleagues are willing to correct the damage that has been done.”
We urge Republicans in the General Assembly to reconsider their past opposition to addressing this issue through standard legislation.
Remember the sweeping 2018 state grand jury report that blew the lid off decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups in six Pennsylvania dioceses and the similar findings of investigations in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.
Consider that it often takes victims of childhood abuse many years to come forward, but the opportunity for them to sue ended at the age of 30 under state law.
Rozzi, himself a victim of childhood abuse by a parish priest, speaks for so many who want an opportunity to make their case in court.
Time and again survivors of sexual abuse have held out hope that the window for justice was about to open, only to have it summarily slammed shut in their faces, and this last setback might have been the most devastating of all.
We urge state lawmakers to act swiftly and not make these deserving people wait any longer for a chance to be heard. — The Reading Eagle