MUHLENBERG TWP., Pa. - A Berks County state lawmaker who has been giving voice to people who were sexually abused as children is vowing to press forward amid Monday's report of a proposed constitutional amendment not moving forward as planned.
The amendment would have allowed lawsuits for otherwise outdated claims of abuse, but the Wolf administration said it wasn't advertised as required, so the necessary voter referendum to approve it can't happen for at least two years.
The Department of State issued a news release Monday, calling it "simple human error" and apologizing for the mistake, which was discovered late last week. As a result, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is leaving her job, effective Friday.
"This news today is absolutely heartbreaking for victims," Rep. Mark Rozzi, himself a victim of child sexual abuse, said in a statement to 69 News. "We were just days away from finalizing the bill's passage in the Senate, which would have been in time for the constitutional amendment to be on the ballot in May."
Constitutional amendments must pass both chambers in two successive two-year sessions before going before voters in a referendum as the final OK. That was expected to occur during the May 18 primary, but now the second round of legislative votes is delayed until at least 2023.
Rozzi said legislators are now pursuing other legal alternatives that would avoid the need for sexual abuse victims to wait at least another two years to seek justice.
"One, the Legislature can take the statutory route, which I believe is constitutional and I have always believed it was, but because of problems in the Senate, we took the constitutional amendment way," Rozzi said. "The second option is to do an emergency constitutional amendment, which would remove any doubt about its constitutionality."
"Waiting another term for victims to seek justice is unacceptable," he added.
In the meantime, Gov. Tom Wolf said the Department of State is immediately instituting new controls, including additional tracking and notifications of constitutional amendments, to ensure similar failings do not occur in the future.
"I share your anger and frustration that this happened," Wolf said, "and I stand with you in your fight for justice."
The governor said he has also asked the Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General to review the situation and make additional recommendations to improve the department's process for handling constitutional amendments.