Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced on Monday that Secretary of State Kathy Bookvar will resign from her position at the end of the week due to her department’s failure to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment that sought to extend the statute of limitations for victims of clergy sexual abuse.
In 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report “describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials’ concealment of it.” Although the report concluded that there were more than 300 abusive clergy, only a few cases were able to be criminally prosecuted due to the running of the statute of limitations. The report recommended that a two-year window be opened to allow victims to file a claim that otherwise would have been impermissible. After months of “tense negotiations” on how to best handle the matter, state legislators agreed to propose a constitutional amendment. In their 2019-2020 session, legislators passed a bill that would allow victims an extended time period in which to file a claim. It was approved again last month by the state House and is soon expected to pass the Senate.
The amendment process has been curtailed, however, due to the recent revelation that the proposed change was not advertised to the public as required by state law. Due to the oversight, the question is unable to be posed to voters on the spring primary ballot. Bookvar’s department is responsible for the advertising. On its website, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued an apology, stating:
The department offers a sincere apology to the victims impacted by this oversight and the delay that will be caused, as well as to all those working to pass this measure. Department staff advertised other proposed constitutional amendments passed during the last legislative session, but through simple human error mistakenly failed to include this proposed constitutional amendment in the advertisements. In preparing for the potential second passage this month, DOS staff noticed late last week that the amendment was not previously advertised.
The department announced that they have implemented new controls to “ensure that such failings will not occur in the future, including tracking of all constitutional amendments from the time they are filed and direct notifications to additional department staff when they are signed, along with cross-checks to ensure all required steps are carried out.” Wolf and Shapiro are encouraging lawmakers to instead pass legislation that would grant victims additional time to file a claim.
Bookvar oversaw Pennsylvania’s 2020 election process that underwent intense scrutiny on both a state and federal level.