HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — The Pennsylvania Legislature is in limbo as Democrats and Republicans in the House continue to disagree on several matters, including the operating rules that are necessary for the lower chamber to function. Lawmakers have many priorities, but after nearly a month into the new session, it appears the House may not return to Harrisburg for another four weeks.
It’s almost certain the constitutional amendment that would provide a two-year window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits, will not meet this week’s deadline to be placed on the spring primary ballot for voters to decide.
“Harrisburg is broken,” said House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), who has made the two-year civil window his top priority.
On Tuesday, a visibly frustrated Rozzi, gaveled the lower chamber out of session until Feb. 27.
“The House stands adjourned until February 27, 2023 at noon, unless sooner recalled by the speaker,” said Rozzi before pounding the speaker’s gavel.
Rozzi, who was nominated for speaker by Republicans earlier this month, has yet to change his affiliation to Independent- something Republicans say was essential for their support.
“He stood in front of the chamber, and really all the citizens of the Commonwealth, and made a series of promises he has yet to fulfill any single one of those,” said Republican House Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) on Wednesday. “I thought he spoke very clearly. That’s still my expectation, is that he’ll follow through on what he promised,” Cutler added.
“While some want to focus on my independence in terms of party politics, my commitment is to the people of Pennsylvania,” said Rozzi in a recent video.
Regardless of Rozzi’s affiliation, Cutler says his caucus is ready to work, and that they’re frustrated with the lack of action.
“I think not being in session is completely unacceptable and I think it’s time just to start to put the rules and the different issues up for votes,” said Cutler. “There’s plenty of things that need to get done and we’re willing to get to work,” he added.
However, with no signs of compromise on rules, nor the two-year window for victims, it appears the entire Legislature is at a stalemate. Bills passed in the Senate need the House’s approval and vice versa.
Before it recently passed the Republican-controlled Senate, the two-year window was combined into Senate Bill 1, with two other constitutional amendments related to regulatory override and voter ID, which are both unpopular among Democrats and Rozzi.
“I have seen the lows of lawmakers using survivors of sexual assault as pawns to try to force the passage of another constitutional amendment that would make it harder for everyone to vote,” said Rozzi.
Rozzi says the House doors will remain locked until there is an agreement. He’s now turning to the public for some help.
“In the coming weeks, I will be touring the Commonwealth to hear directly from our citizens on how they think the House can best move forward and heal the divides that exist to the hyper-partisan politics of Harrisburg,” said Rozzi. “It is my hope, at the conclusion of this tour, we will have a clear idea on how best to heal the divisiveness in Harrisburg, what a fair set of house rules should look like, and a plan to finally get survivors of childhood sexual assault the justice and truth that they so desperately deserve,” Rozzi added.
“The Bipartisan Speaker’s Work Group” hosted it first public session last night in Pittsburgh and will head to Philadelphia on Friday.
Republicans say the best path forward is putting the proposed rules, and SB 1, up for a vote as soon as possible.
“Quickest way to get that done would actually be to organize and run the Senate bill that’s already here,” said Cutler.
Some members of the House Republican Caucus believe Democrats are stalling with the listening tour, using it as an excuse to wait until February before returning. Cutler says there is no reason to delay House business until late February, even if the listening tour is taking place.
“While that important work is going on and getting that input is valuable, I think that we could move forward with the rules that were adopted last session. I think that would be a good framework to start from if we can’t get votes for either our proposed rules or theirs,” said Cutler.
Three special elections to fill Democratic vacancies in Allegheny County are scheduled for Feb. 7. If those seats are held by Democrats, it would officially give them a majority, a very narrow majority, but control of the House by the time they would return, nonetheless.
Rozzi said he would call the House back sooner if lawmakers can agree on rules and the two-year civil window for survivors.