State lawmakers working on emergency amendment after issues with child sex abuse survivor changes

After state bungles amendment for child sex abuse survivors, lawmakers are working for emergency fix

PITTSBURGH — After two-and-a-half years of waiting for justice, Ryan O’Connor received some of the worst news imaginable Monday.

“I understand that it’s not a guarantee the people of the Commonwealth will vote ‘yes’ on this, but I have hope. That is the one thing I’ve hung on to for 45 years,” O’Conner said.

He’s a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. His hope has been tested lately after issues with a new amendment from the state. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of State apologized for its failure to advertise the first passage of the amendment by the General Assembly last year. This means the process of getting it passed in two separate sessions before going to the voters must start from the beginning.

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The issue led to the resignation of Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who will step down Friday. Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Senate Democrats initially suggested a legislative fix, but questions over its constitutionality crippled efforts for change in 2018. Duquesne constitutional law professor Bruce Ledewitz foresees a similar outcome.

“You would be asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to change 100 or 125 years of precedent. Probably, the court would not have done that,” Ledewitz said.

There is the possibility of an emergency constitutional amendment. It requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the state House and Senate before going to the voters. Rep. Mark Rozzi, a survivor himself, announced he is working with lawmakers from both chambers to craft one.

O’Connor, meanwhile, has waited 45 years to hold the priest who sexually assaulted him as a child accountable. It’s not clear how much longer he will have to wait.

“You’re sick in your stomach, and then you’re angry. Then you kind of become pragmatic again. I think that’s what gets me through a lot of things is I just try to be as pragmatic and realistic as I can,” he said.

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