Well that didn’t take long.
Less than two weeks ago, it looked like Pennsylvania’s normally fractious House of Representatives had suddenly discovered sanity, with lawmakers coming together to elect a compromise candidate for speaker who promised to work as an independent and put the people first.
For a minute there “the birthplace of American democracy actually lived up to its promise,” I rather optimistically wrote.
In the words of the late, great Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella decrying the epidemic of violins on television, “Neverrrr mindddddd.”
The House shut down after Republicans and Democrats failed to reach agreement on a proposed constitutional amendment giving adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse the retroactive right to sue in civil court.
As I write this, there are no apparent plans to recall lawmakers to Harrisburg.
Speaker Mark Rozzi, a Democrat, said the House won’t move onto other business until the issue is settled. He has appointed a working group to break the logjam (the specifics of which have been maddeningly elusive).
Amidst all this, at least one Republican has already called on Rozzi to step down over charges he reneged on a vow to switch his registration and become an independent.
Somehow the word “mess” doesn’t do justice to the state the narrowly divided 203-member chamber now finds itself in. And it comes as departing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf hands the reins to Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, who will step right into the middle of it all.
So with little else to do, and plenty of time on their hands, the warring factions were left to lob incendiary statements across the partisan No Man’s Land, gaining about as much advantage as the French and the Germans on the Western Front in 1915.
“The General Assembly has a unique opportunity to stand firmly on the side of survivors of child sexual abuse and to start the session off with a genuine show of bipartisanship. The time to act is now,” House Democratic spokesperson Nicole Reigelman said.
“It is disappointing that the most basic organizational issues continue to obstruct the work of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” House Republicans volleyed back.
The only thing that was missing was a pointless and bloody decision to fix bayonets and go charging across the barbed wire, consequences be damned, just so someone could claim they’d won.
Inevitably, the people who needed help the most, the abuse survivors who have waited two decades for justice, were collateral damage to the legislative and political paralysis once again.
“This is hard. This is triggering. Is this ever going to end?” Marci Hamilton, of the advocacy group CHILD USA, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
Relief, of a sort, appeared to come by Wednesday, when the Republican-controlled Senate passed a look-back amendment as part of a package of proposed amendments that also included voter identification requirements, and expanded legislative authority over regulations.
All but one of the chamber’s Democrats voted against the package.
“The public should understand that this is happening only because the majority is choosing this path. It pains me that my vote today might be portrayed as a vote against survivors,” Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, said. “But I cannot, in good conscience, vote to support [the bill].”
Across No Man’s Land … then back again.
There’s every reason to think that the chaos that has engulfed House, where Democrats and Republicans are engaged in a high-stakes fight for control, will continue to flare violently for the foreseeable future.
With about as much success as in 1914.
Copyright 2023 John L. Micek, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmic[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.