Several weeks ago, Pennsylvanians were supposed to have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment to provide a path for victims of childhood sexual abuse to take civil actions. However, the Pennsylvania Department of State failed to meet standard publication requirements for the amendment process and a clerical error within the department led to the removal of the question from the ballot, causing additional hardships to victims of childhood abuse across the commonwealth. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar stepped down from her position soon after.
As a result, the House recently ordered an investigation into the error by establishing a select committee to determine what happened within the Department of State so that a mistake of this magnitude can never happen again.
“Our power as legislators is only as strong as the people’s faith in us,” said Speaker Bryan Cutler. “A constitutional amendment takes years to reach the voters, and the fact is we still know very little about what actually led to this failure. This committee will find out exactly what caused this breakdown, and work to restore the public’s trust in our processes.”
As established by House Resolution 91, the committee will examine, investigate and make a complete study of the publication of the constitutional amendment process. The committee will be made up of the following members: Reps. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington) as chair, Seth Grove (R-York), Jason Ortitay (R-Washington/Allegheny), Margo Davidson (D-Philadelphia) and Mark Rozzi (D-Berks).
Additionally, Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid recently discussed findings of the Office of State Inspector General’s report on the department’s failure to advertise the constitutional amendment, HB 963, which would have extended retroactively the timeline sexual abuse victims have to file civil action against their abusers.
“On behalf of the Department of State, I apologize to the victims of abuse for the additional pain and distress we have caused them,” said Degraffenreid. “We are committed to ensuring such a failing will never happen again.”
The Department of State implemented several changes in an effort to improve its processes. These include both recommendations from the Inspector General’s report and additional changes instituted by the department:
– Creating a documented process for how proposed constitutional amendments are handled from start to finish
– Creating written training materials for staff and requiring new and current staff to be trained on these processes annually
– Instituting written and electronic tracking systems for every step in handling proposed constitutional amendments
– Implementing a “top down” process which makes the department’s Executive Deputy Secretary responsible for leading staff response to proposed constitutional amendments, including notification of the physical receipt of documents, and convening executive team members to respond
“The Department of State thanks the Office of the State Inspector General for its thorough review and recommendations,” said Degraffenreid. “As we move forward, we will be implementing these changes and looking for other process improvements.”