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After 2021 debacle, state on track to advertise proposed constitutional amendments

Advertisements will begin appearing in newspapers across Pennsylvania next week about six proposed changes to the state constitution, including an amendment long-awaited by child sexual abuse victims.

The Department of State confirmed its plan for meeting the constitutionally required timing of advertisement of the proposed constitutional amendments in 127 newspapers, including The Patriot-News.

Those proposed amendments would:

• Open a two-year window for child sexual abuse victims to file civil lawsuits;

• Spell out there is no right to a taxpayer-funded abortion or guarantee of the right to an abortion;

• Allow the gubernatorial nominee to select his running mate with party approval instead of allowing voters to make that selection;

• Require voters to produce an identification every time they vote;

• Allow the General Assembly to disapprove executive branch regulations; and

• Authorize the auditor general to regularly audit election results.

Along with the newspaper ads appearing next week, the notice of the proposed amendments will run again in those 127 publications the week of Sept. 1 and the week of Oct. 1, depending on the newspapers’ publication schedule.

Extra attention was paid to making sure the department met the advertising requirement after it dropped the ball last year and failed to advertise the wording of a proposed look-back window for child sexual abuse victims to sue their alleged abuser no matter how much time had elapsed since the abuse occurred.

It was among the four recommendations that came out of a 2018 grand jury report detailing findings of a two-year probe by the state Attorney General’s office into clergy sex abuse and massive cover-up within six Pennsylvania dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church.

That look-back window amendment completed the required passes through the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions last year and was in a position to appear on the May 2021 primary ballot. But the state department failed to advertise the proposed amendment’s wording as is constitutionally mandated.

The state department blamed the mistake, described as dealing a body blow to child sex abuse victims, on “simple human error.”

Still, the debacle led to the resignation of then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and sparked an investigation by the Office of State Inspector General, which found that there was no evidence suggesting the error was deliberate but rather “a combination of internal systemic failures within” the department. The advertising of the proposed amendments will complete the first phase of the amendment process.

State lawmakers will need to approve the six amendments again in the 2023-24 legislative session before they can appear on a ballot for voter ratification.

The earliest voters could see these proposed amendments on a ballot is next year’s May 16 primary.

Contributed article