(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania Senate approved three constitutional amendments Wednesday after the chamber spent hours debating the validity of bundling the issues into one resolution.
The joint resolution described in Senate Bill 1 proposes “separate and distinct” amendments – to require voter ID in each election, reform the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and shield regulatory disapprovals from the governor’s veto pen – ahead of a looming deadline to include the referendums on the May primary ballot.
Republican senators in favor of the bill lean on its “separate and distinct” language to counter objections from Democrats that packaging the amendments into one resolution won’t pass legal muster.
“This is not the right way to do it,” said Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-West Chester. “These two other amendments have nothing to do with survivors of abuse or their rights … these measures are just too important to be lumped together.”
Opening a two-year retroactive window for adult survivors to sue their childhood abusers in civil court has been mired in legislative gridlock since 2018. A clerical error within the Department of State brought to light in 2021 – just months before voters were set to decide the issue via ballot referendum – complicated the issue even further and delayed the process another two years.
Failure to again secure approval for the resolution in both chambers of the legislature means the two-year clock on the amendments will start all over – a risk Democrats argue lawmakers should avoid by decoupling the issues into standalone bills.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Dallas, said the amendments will appear on the ballot as three individual questions, making “no material difference” on whether the chamber considers the issues separately or together.
“It’s at an all or nothing stage,” she said. “I do not pretend to know how the House may position to act on this or what their determination may be.”
She said the Senate can afford them the time to help make that choice.
The lower chamber adjourned indefinitely this week after House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Temple, said Republicans were unwilling to consider statute of limitation reform in a special session called Monday by Gov. Tom Wolf.
“This sort of partisan divide is what has plagued Pennsylvanian politics for far too long,” he said. “Party politics must take a back seat to saving the lives of survivors of childhood sexual assault.”
Republican leader Bryan Cutler, R-Quarryville, said the special session was “unnecessary” given the policy’s broad bipartisan support.
“Passing this constitutional amendment was something we have done easily in the past and have already committed to running this session,” he said. “We can do this work in regular session, while also addressing other urgent needs the people of Pennsylvania expect us to address in a timely manner.”
Democrats, buoyed by Wolf’s veto pen, have thwarted Republicans’ attempts to enact a widespread voter identification law in Pennsylvania and roll back regulations they consider detrimental, such as the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Republicans argued on the Senate floor Wednesday that critics of SB1 were willing to scuttle “long overdue” justice for abuse survivors to keep voter ID and regulatory reforms off the ballot.
“We are putting these questions before the voters, so what are you afraid of?” said Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland Twp., during the debate. “Move this process forward. This can be on the ballot in May. Move this process forward, let the voters of Pennsylvania decide these questions.”
Christen Smith joins The Center Square as its Pennsylvania News Editor and brings with her more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues from all angles. She’s a Pennsylvania State University alumna and has been published in the Washington Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, RealClear and Broad + Liberty, among others.