Pennsylvania House Democrats put their freshly minted majority status to work Tuesday in shutting down Republican efforts to make changes to legislation designed to let victims of childhood sexual abuse file otherwise outdated lawsuits.
After the winners of three Pittsburgh-area special elections were sworn in, giving Democrats a 102-101 majority, the chamber began work on legislation for a two-year ‘window’ for child sexual abuse lawsuits, aiming for a final House vote later this week.
The Democrats kept together their single-seat margin during several hours of contentious debate over arcane chamber rules, with both sides using bare-knuckled legislative tactics.
House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County and his Republican caucus colleagues peppered Democratic Speaker Mark Rozzi, of Berks, with parliamentary inquiries, points of order and other floor maneuvers before Democrats forced a vote that approved special rules designed to speed immediate passage of the two-year lawsuit window.
Rozzi and the Democrats want to get the lawsuit window approved by their chamber before the House enacts rules and begins work for the regular two-year session that began last month. The tension surrounding the special-session rules Tuesday suggests the regular rules may also be contentious. Rank-and-file members have yet to learn which committees they will serve on.
The GOP-majority state Senate passed the lawsuit window last month in the form of a constitutional amendment but bundled it with two other amendments Republicans favor and Democrats generally oppose. One would greatly expand voter ID requirements; the other would make it easier to overturn regulations enacted by the governor’s administration.
Under Republican majorities, the House has previously voted overwhelmingly in favor of the two-year window. The Democrats want to pass it in two ways this week — as a regular bill and again as an amendment to the state constitution, as the Senate did.
A bill that passes both chambers could become law as soon as the governor signs it, while a constitutional change would need to be approved by voters, in November at the earliest.
‘I think the dual path is always the right way to go,’ Rozzi said in a Capitol hallway after the session ended. ‘We want to give both options to the Senate. The victims have always wanted the statutory route and if the Senate would pass that, we wouldn’t have to wait till November.’
Cutler, who opted not to seek another session as speaker at the end of last year, argued Democrats were wielding the majority to prevent amendments and constrain debate, later describing it as undemocratic and a ‘complete shutdown of any minority involvement.’
‘If you want to vote for it, you should at least be able to discuss it,’ Cutler told his Democratic colleagues on the floor. He also argued Democrats were using questionable procedural tactics that risked future legal challenges.
Rozzi was known as a prime backer of the lawsuit window before he emerged as a compromise candidate for speaker last month.