Special Session Rules in Place as House Considers Relief for Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - House lawmakers returned to Harrisburg on Tuesday for a special session to consider a two-year civil window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers. Even after a long hiatus from Harrisburg due to gridlock, tensions were still high yesterday among Republicans and Democrats.
After the House welcomed three new members - all of them Democrats who give their party a majority in the lower chamber for the first time in over a decade- Democrats introduced a set of operating rules for the special session.
“These are rules just for passing the statute of limitation for victims of sexual assault,” said Rep. Maureen Madden (D-Monroe).
However, the rules sparked a lengthy debate between both parties. Republicans were not shy in expressing their concerns.
“A complete shutdown of any minority involvement- that is not how we practiced, that is not how we acted when we were in the majority,” said Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) following Tuesday’s session.
The debate over the rules lasted about three hours.
“The delay tactics have to stop, Mr. Speaker. I mean, the victims have waited long enough. And now parliamentary procedure after parliamentary procedure after parliamentary procedure to delay, delay, delay,” said House Majority Whip Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) during floor debate Tuesday afternoon. “This is nothing more than a delay tactic, and we need to get on with the people's business. Isn't that what you all said you all wanted to do for weeks? So, let's get on with the people's business,” Harris added.
The rules eventually passed, allowing both a two-year window statutory bill and constitutional amendment to be sent to a five-member special committee where they were considered and approved.
Cutler said it's good that the House is back in action, but is disappointed in the process in which the rules were approved.
“Unfortunately, the bad news was the undemocratic rules that were just recently adopted on the House floor. It's not the underlying issue of the statute of limitations and that process that was ever at debate- at the debate is the draconian measures that were contained in the rules, such as a two-thirds majority to pass an amendment,” said Cutler.
Cutler says the best and quickest path for the two-year window is by passing Senate Bill 1, which was sent to the House after it passed the Senate last month. It includes the window, but also contains constitutional amendments for voter I.D. and making it easier for the General Assembly to overturn regulations.
“We had a vehicle, a bill that was ready to go that we could have voted in regular session. But instead, we're going through this process that will take four more days to send it back over to the Senate. I think they've made their intentions very clear,” said Cutler.
Some Democrats say Republicans are leveraging victims by using SB 1 as a way to advance unrelated, partisan priorities. Democrats want to see the standalone two-year window, which the full House is expected to consider for a second time tomorrow. If it passes on third consideration, possibly by the end of the week, it will be sent to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.