Democratic legislation giving victims of childhood sexual abuse legal recourse against their abusers faces long odds in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Speaking at the monthly Pennsylvania Press Club gathering on Monday, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana), announced that he “doesn’t anticipate” the Senate voting on a constitutional amendment designed to help child abuse survivors, unless Democrats agree to combine it with GOP-supported amendments seeking to limit the governor’s executive powers and enact voter ID laws.
The constitutional amendment would grant child sexual abuse survivors a two-year window to file civil lawsuits, which is currently prohibited under the statute of limitations. The amendment has been in the works for years, but faced a major setback in 2021 when the Department of State failed to meet requirements to place it on the ballot and had to start the constitutional amendment process all over again.
Legislation seeking to change the constitution needs to pass both chambers in two consecutive sessions and then is placed on the ballot for a vote. Republicans have recently used this process as a tactic to bypass former Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen.
Republicans started the process over by passing Senate Bill 106 in July 2022. The bill packaged together the child sex abuse amendment with other constitutional amendments seeking to ban abortion, limit the governor’s regulatory powers, and enact Voter ID laws—measures that were widely opposed by Democrats. Former House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton gave a viral speech defending abortion access before the bill’s passage, and helped galvanize Democrats to flip the House in the fall elections.
Senate Republicans removed the anti-abortion amendment at the beginning of the new legislative session, but packaged the amendment protecting abuse survivors with amendments limiting the governor’s regulatory powers and enacting voter ID and other changes to Pennsylvania’s elections.
House Democrats opposed those changes and made the abuse survivors amendment a standalone bill by removing the other amendments. They voted the updated bill out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Throughout the process, Pittman has made it clear that if Democrats want to pass the child abuse amendment, they will have to pass it as a package with the amendments limiting the governor’s power and voter ID. Pennlive reported earlier this year that Pittman “intends the package of three proposed constitutional amendments to be the final time the chamber deals with that issue.”
Democrats have criticized this bundling of amendments, with Wolf and then-acting Secretary of State Lehigh Chapman filing a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court last year, arguing that packaging multiple unrelated amendments together was unconstitutional. The court initially declined to issue a ruling since the original package was stalled in the legislature at the time, but finally dismissed the lawsuit earlier this week.