A few weeks ago, Governor Tom Wolf and legislative leaders announced that they had reached a bipartisan agreement to complete the long-awaited job of giving victims of long-standing child sexual abuse the opportunity to seek justice. .
Let’s just hope their promise is honored after November’s midterm elections. Nothing is ever guaranteed on Capitol Hill as the political winds shift.
Democrat Wolf and Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate and House have agreed to prioritize the legislation early next year in a referendum. He would ask voters whether the state Constitution should be amended to provide a two-year window for victims of child sexual abuse to sue, despite the statute of limitations expiring.
If the plan goes through, voters could see the referendum on the ballot in one of next year’s elections.
The referendum should have taken place last year. Lawmakers approved the necessary legislation, but the Pennsylvania State Department derailed it by failing to meet advertising requirements to let voters know what they would be voting on.
So lawmakers had to start all over again.
A referendum requires that identical legislation be passed in successive legislative sessions. The first bill was approved last year. The second will be voted on early next year, according to the agreement announced by Wolf and legislative leaders on August 31.
I hope voters will approve the amendment, if lawmakers stick to their promise and allow a vote. Elections sometimes poison good intentions.
Every state representative and half of the state senators are up for re-election in November. This could mean that new faces would have to be persuaded to follow the plan.
However, there should be no turnover among the leaders responsible for collecting the necessary votes. It’s a good sign.
Only two of the four legislative leaders who made the pledge are eligible for re-election. And only one of them, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Center, has an opponent. Chances are that all four will be back in the job next year and likely to keep their leadership positions.
The wildcard could be Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican senator from Franklin County who is running for governor.
The governor does not have to approve legislation for referendums. But a governor can influence whether a vote is held and the outcome of that vote.
Wolf has a limited term and will not be in office next year. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro supports a referendum. It was his work as Attorney General that got us to this point. His office oversaw a grand jury that investigated seven decades of allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and subsequent attempts by the church and others to cover up the abuse.
One of the grand jury’s recommendations was to open a retroactive “civil window” to allow victims barred by the statute of limitations to sue. The law now gives people 12 years to file a complaint after turning 18.
The referendum law does not mention this scandal, but it is what motivated it.
Children who have been abused in any context would be eligible. This means those who have been abused in the Boy Scouts scandal, by teachers, youth sports coaches and others could also benefit.
Those who take office after the elections must honor the promise made to help them. And I hope voters would overwhelmingly approve of a referendum.
Paul Muschick is a columnist for the Morning Call.