Pennsylvania voters are almost certainly unlikely to see a package of proposed constitutional changes in the statewide vote in the May primary, after a deadline set by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration expired on Friday for lawmakers to pass the measures.
The changes include a long-awaited bipartisan effort to give child sexual abuse victims a new chance to sue abusers, and two Republican-backed measures to expand voter identification requirements and empower lawmakers to repeal regulations without vetoing one being exposed to governors.
The Republican-controlled state Senate gave its approval earlier this month, although GOP lawmakers isolated Democrats by consolidating the measures into one bill.
The State House had taken no action amid political paralysis over which party is in control.
Both chambers have been adjourned until February 27th.
The deadline in the constitution for the proposed changes to be passed and published in the newspapers is February 16, three months before the primary elections. Shapiro’s State Department said the Legislature must pass it no later than Friday to give the agency time to set up ads in newspapers across the state.
Otherwise it would be “extremely difficult” for the department to meet the February 16 advertising deadline, the agency announced on Friday.
The next opportunity for the changes to appear in a nationwide vote is in November’s general election, but the proposals must first pass both houses.
For sexual assault survivors and advocates who have waited for lawsuit window legislation to pass since it was first introduced years ago, it’s a struggle to watch, said Mike McDonnell, a spokesman for the Network of Priest Abuse Survivors. He called it “disgusting” to pack the measure with the others.
“The legislature is inflicting more pain on victims rather than trying to compromise and work towards a solution that protects other children, allows predators to be exposed, as well as any institution that may have been covering for them,” he said. “Some things, in my opinion, are more important than any political shift and this is certainly one of them.”
House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, canceled the January session after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on its legislative priority, the lawsuit window for victims of child sex abuse.
The Senate passed the package on Jan. 11 with a near-bipartisan vote and sent it to the House of Representatives for further consideration. The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives said it was easy to pass, and accused Democrats of keeping it out of the session until a special election on Feb. 7 will determine who has the majority in the chamber. The Democrats narrowly captured the House of Representatives in November, but three Democratic vacancies resulted in a 101-to-99 Republican majority.
Republican Senate leader Joe Pittman said the Senate “strongly believes that the House of Representatives must pass the proposed legislation.”
“It is unfortunate that the House has yet to organize its chamber and take action to give voters a voice on these important matters,” he said.
But Democrats are pushing for the lawsuit window to be considered on its own.
Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, called Republicans in both houses “disingenuous” and “more intent on scoring political points early in the legislature by using survivors of childhood sexual abuse to their own advantage.” .
“It is shameful to make this commitment dependent on partisan agendas because the survivors have waited too long for justice,” she said.
The lawsuit window measure was originally passed by both houses in two consecutive legislatures, but a state misstep meant it couldn’t go before voters, so the process had to start over.
Brooke Schultz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.
Mark Scolforo contributed coverage.