February 23 – After weeks of recess, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives came back into session this Tuesday, where Democrats had a one-seat majority.
With frustrations mounting since the recess and numerous delay tactics, many legislators were ready to get back to work for the people.
But here’s how it really went down.
It turns out, the House was called back in for a special session only – to pass legislation that would open the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. This has been a pet project for the new Speaker of the House, Mark Rozzi, for many years.
PA Representative Rob Kauffman explained, “They slammed through the rules for the special session. They immediately created a super committee. They immediately produced language for these bills. Before these bills were even in print, so somebody at home was unable to access the language for these bills, they threw it into the super committee. They slammed it out of the super committee. They read it across the desk on the House floor for first reading.”
A new House rule for this special session requires a two thirds majority to amend bills.
Kauffman said, “Never before have I ever seen a rule in the House since I’ve been there where you need two thirds vote to amend a bill. These bills will now come to the House floor today on what is we call second consideration, which is where you traditionally amend a bill with a majority vote, but it’s a two thirds majority because of what they did to the House rules. So they essentially without having the bill in print, slammed through this bill. It’s essentially unamendable because you need a two thirds vote. So it will be on second consideration today and third consideration we’ll vote finally tomorrow and will then be reported out, ideally, is what they have planned.”
Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM added, “It’s a foregone conclusion because they have a one-vote majority. They will vote all in lock step. It doesn’t matter all the Republicans can vote together on this, it’s going to pass. It’s just the way it is. Which goes against everything that Rozzi said he didn’t like about what was happening before. It’s worse than the rules that he criticized in terms of one side getting to decide all the legislation.”
Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “But nothing is getting done. We haven’t even done anything because it’s Thursday and there’s no rules.”
Kauffman said, “He (Rozzi) has essentially said that we will be held hostage on this issue until it’s done, which we don’t know exactly what that means for him. So we’re not sure when we will then transition into regular session. That could be Friday. It could be next week. It could be a couple weeks or months. We do not know what that definition he has is.”
The issue is the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors.
Kauffman noted, “One of my concerns is that if this is a legitimate issue, he is getting this done in the most un-Democratic way possible.”
Jansen said, “This is what worries me. He’s putting a gun to the head, literally, of the whole Pennsylvania legislature, saying unless you do exactly what I as one person wants, I’m not letting you guys move forward. First of all I don’t even understand how it’s legal for him to do this. I would hope he just means the House, getting it past the House because the Senate should not be held with the gun to their head over this. Republicans do have the majority in the Senate and I would beg the Republican Senators do not acquiesce to these kind of tactics because they will just continue then. If they see a win on this, there’s no way, I don’t care who you put in the speakership, if the Republicans in the Senate acquiesce to this move, they will just continue these tactics, which as you said is the least Democratic that we could employ.”
The real crux of this whole thing is in order to get the bill to the ballot, it also has to pass the PA Senate. Because that’s how government works – it’s checks and balances.
State Senator Doug Mastriano has indicated that the Senate will likely stand firm on voter ID and the regulatory reform, which had been included with the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases.
He said, “A package of three constitutional amendments were sent to Rozzi. That included regulatory reform. It included voter ID and then of course help for those molested as children. It’s a package. We expect it to come back as a package. Rozzi, the irony, this guy who made promises to the Republican leadership who were naïve enough to believe that he was going to be honest and fair, gave power to the Democrats. Rozzi thinks it’s okay to strip the bill and rip it apart and send it to us just with the part that he likes. If he doesn’t send us the complete bill, it ain’t passing in the Senate. The irony is Rozzi who’s been a champion of this is going to be responsible for killing his own bill.”
Kauffman added, “Let’s rehearse the fact that this would have been done two years ago if the Wolf administration and their secretary of state would have followed the law and done it properly. They screwed this up. This is not on us. This is on the incompetence of the Wolf administration and the way they administered government in this commonwealth for eight years.”
Jansen pointed out, “We don’t know what this means to him (Rozzi). This is what I find terrifying. This little dictator who is just vindictive. He was a victim. I get that, but I think it’s psychologically affected him where he just can’t operate in the real world in terms of looking out for other interests of the state. He just wants his own idea of justice to be enacted. Can he literally keep you guys from going into general session if he doesn’t like what the Senate does?”
Kauffman said, “The reality of it is the House governs ourselves, so if he actually has a majority of people who are willing to stand with him on the ridiculous nature of holding the entire business of the House hostage to one issue, he can hold it as long as he wants as has been demonstrated over the last six to eight weeks.”
Jansen said, “I’m also terrified of the precedent. Passing this constitutional amendment or putting a law in that says we can just eliminate statutes of limitations for certain victims, it’s a dangerous precedent. Other victims are going to come forward and demand the same thing.”
“It is certainly a dangerous precedent,” Kauffman agreed. “That’s why although it’s had its hearing in the past, we want to be very cautious as we move forward.”